Infectious Diseases

Human Trials for an Oxford Coronavirus Vaccine Begin Today

Posted on 23 April 2020

A project run by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group will begin phase one human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine today.

This is remarkably rapid progress, as reaching phase one clinical trials for a vaccine usually takes years rather than months. The speed of this project was possible in part because the team were already working on vaccines for MERS (a coronavirus) and disease X, a placeholder name for potential future epidemic-causing pathogens. The vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is based on a chimpanzee virus modified to include the coronavirus spike protein – the molecule that Sars-CoV-2 uses to enter human cells. The candidate was chosen for its ability to confer strong immunity with a single dose, and will first be tested in healthy, younger adults before moving on to other age groups.

How we develop new vaccines | GSK
Vaccines can take 15 years or more to develop and produce. Source: https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/research-and-development/development/how-we-develop-new-vaccines/

Plans for large-scale production of the vaccine are already being put in place, and the team expects that a million doses could be available in September, significantly earlier than the 12-18 month estimate that is often given. However, such early investment in production does carry a risk – if clinical trials fail, then any doses produced will be useless. Nevertheless, such risks need to be taken. Microsoft founder Bill Gates warns that failing to think about manufacturing and distribution now will lead to deadly delays:

We aren’t sure which vaccines will be the most effective yet, and each requires unique technology to make. That means nations need to invest in many different kinds of manufacturing facilities now, knowing that some will never be used. Otherwise, we’ll waste months after the lab develops an immunisation, waiting for the right manufacturer to scale up.

Bill Gates
Kelly-Linden, B., Diver, B., Gulland, B., Gulland, B., Newey, B., Kelly-Linden, B., & Gartner, B. (2020). University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine: everything we know so far. Retrieved 23 April 2020, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/oxford-university-coronavirus-vaccine-covid/

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