Vaccine trials based on chimp virus begin
The first human trials for an Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine based on a modified version of a chimpanzee virus began in Britain on Thursday.
More than 1100 people will eventually take part in the study that will see half of the volunteers aged 18-55 given the potential vaccine, while the other half are given a routine meningitis vaccination.
Those participating had to meet certain conditions including not having had COVID-19 so far, not being pregnant or breastfeeding and having no underlying conditions.
It's one of seven clinical trials underway to create a vaccine against the virus, according to London's School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Others are already taking place in the US, China, and soon, Germany. The Australian government has spend $3 million supporting clinical trials to help diagnose and treat the virus.
The Jenner Institute's Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the Oxford project, said she hopes for an 80 per cent success rate and wants to be able to produce one million doses of the vaccine by September.
If successful, it could be made available to some by the northern autumn this year.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Oxford vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus which is a "weakened version of a common cold virus that cases infection in chimpanzees," Oxford's Jenner Institute states.
It has been "genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans."
The team have added genetic material from the COVID-19 virus including a particular Spike Glycoprotein which is involved in how the virus replicates.
The aim is to "make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the Spike protein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection."
Vaccines based on the chimp adenovirus are a well-studied form of vaccine, that have been used to target different diseases and in a range of people from babies to the elderly.
Prof Gilbert said the team started working on the project on 11 January, one day after the genome of the new virus was shared globally.
The three-month time frame has been "incredibly fast" as "normally you'd be looking at at least five years to get to that stage," she said. "We can't miss steps out in order to have a safe and effective vaccine."
In the study volunteers will report in for health checks and keep a diary, with the idea that some of those involved will be exposed to COVID-19 as they go about their daily life.
Ironically, the success of the trial will depend on the success of lockdown measures, with results expected in 2-6 months depending on how much virus is circulating in the community.
"If there's very low virus transmission in among all the volunteers that we've vaccinated, we just have to wait a long time to get the result," Prof Gilbert told Sky News.
"So we're looking at trying to test healthcare workers, in hospitals, people who are more likely to be exposed, so that we can get this result more quickly."
Despite the optimism, Britian's chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said the likelihood of having a vaccine in the next calendar year was "incredibly small".
"If people are hoping it's suddenly going to move from where we are in lockdown to where suddenly into everything is gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation," he said.
The UK government is supporting the research, along with another vaccine in development at Imperial College London which hopes to begin trials in June.
The UN has warned finding a vaccine is the only way back to normality but does not expect it to happen anytime soon.
On Wednesday World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Make no mistake: we have a long way to go. This virus will be with us for a long time," he said.
"Most countries are still in the early stages of their epidemics. And some that were affected early in the pandemic are now starting to see a resurgence in cases."
There have been more than 2.6 million cases of coronavirus around the world with 184,000 deaths, including 76 in Australia from more than 6600 cases.
Originally published as Vaccine trials based on chimp virus begin