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Oxford coronavirus vaccine to begin human trials on Thursday

A Covid-19 vaccine being developed at Oxford University will begin human trials on Thursday, according to the Health Secretary.

The team will receive at least an extra £20m in public funding, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today. Another vaccine team at Imperial College London will also receive in excess of £20m in funding.

The Oxford team, lead by Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology, at the Jenner Institute, was first awarded £2.2m in funding by Business Secretary Alok Sharma in March.

The Jenner Institute team is starting production before the trial is complete and aims to have a million doses ready to go by September.

Speaking at today’s press briefing, Hancock praised both teams for making “rapid progress” and said the U.K. will throw “everything we’ve got” at developing a vaccine.

Hancock also said the government would invest in manufacturing capabilities so that if either vaccine was successful it could be available for British people “as soon as humanly possible.”

“We are going to back them to the hilt and give them every resource that they need to get the best possible chance of success as soon as possible. The upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it.”

A spokesperson for the vaccine team told The Oxford Blue: “The Oxford Covid vaccine team are delighted with Tuesday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Health of funding for the evaluation of the new COVID19 vaccine. This week we will start the process of vaccine evaluation in our first human studies and are currently focussing all efforts on preparing for the start of the trials.

“Although it seems like a very long time since the work started, in reality it is less than four months since we first heard of an outbreak of severe pneumonia cases, and began to plan a response. Our brilliant team has been working tirelessly to get to this point using our skills and experience in vaccine development and testing, and will do the best job possible in moving quickly whilst at all times prioritising the safety of the trial participants.”

The science:

Source: Covid-19 vaccine trial, University of Oxford

A chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1), developed at Oxford’s Jenner Institute, was chosen as the most suitable vaccine technology for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as it can generate a strong immune response from one dose and it is not a replicating virus, so it cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual.

This also makes it safer to give to children, the elderly and anyone with a pre-existing condition such as diabetes. Chimpanzee adenoviral vectors are a very well-studied vaccine type, having been used safely in thousands of subjects, from 1 week to 90 years of age, in vaccines targeting over 10 different diseases.

Coronaviruses have club-shaped spikes on their outer coats. Immune responses from other coronavirus studies suggest that these are a good target for a vaccine. The Oxford vaccine contains the genetic sequence of this surface spike protein inside the ChAdOx1 construct.

After vaccination, the surface spike protein of the coronavirus is produced, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body. Prof. Gilbert and team have previously developed a vaccine for another human coronavirus disease, which is Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and this has shown promise in early clinical trials.

Lois Heslop

Lois Heslop is the co-founder of The Oxford Blue and was Editor-in-Chief for HT20 and TT20. She is in her second year studying Physics at Lady Margaret Hall, and hails from South London. Her other interests include classical music and opera, and she is currently a choral scholar.