As the world is grappling with thousands of deaths and lakhs of coronavirus-infected cases, there is some hope as the world’s top university Oxford has announced its vaccine is entering Phase 1 clinical trials in humans.
In a press release, University of Oxford stated that its researchers working in an unprecedented vaccine development effort to prevent COVID-19 have started screening healthy volunteers (aged 18-55) on Friday for their upcoming ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine trial in England’s Thames Valley. The vaccine based on an adenovirus vaccine vector and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein is already in production but won’t be ready for some weeks still.
Although this is the second vaccine to enter Phase 1, Oxford’s ‘viral vectored’ technology is more established, compared to Moderna’s RNA vaccine, which was the first to enter Phase 1. No RNA vaccines are currently licensed for human use.
According to details published by the University, preclinical work on the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is being conducted in collaboration with several partners including Rocky Mountain Laboratories (NIH/NIAID), and the ‘CSIROxbridge Consortium’ led by Indian origin Principal Investigator Professor S.S. Vasan of Australia’s science agency CSIRO.
“This is a significant development in humanity’s fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has already claimed more than 25000 lives across the world with over half a million confirmed cases”, Prof Vasan told The Hindu from Australia.
Moderna and Oxford are amongst eight candidates selected and funded by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the world body coordinating the efforts against Covid. The other six are CureVac, Inovio, Institut Pasteur, Novavax, and the universities of Hong Kong and Queensland.
In fact, other than the eight CEPI-funded vaccines, there are also 14 other institutions including two from India: Pune-based Serum Institute of India and Ahmedabad based Zydus Cadila, which are engaged in developing vaccine for this infectious disease, according to the latest issue of the Nature Biotechnology journal.
The team at Oxford will enrol healthy volunteers aged between 18–55 years, who, if they pass screening, will be the first humans to test the new vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.
The trial will provide valuable information on the safety aspects of the vaccine, as well as its ability to generate an immune response against the virus.
The Oxford University through its press release has invited interested individuals to volunteer to participate on the COVID-19 vaccine and register on its website.
The trial, a collaboration between the University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group clinical teams, will recruit up to 510 volunteers, who will receive either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or a control injection for comparison.
Whilst the team will start screening people now to see if they are eligible to take part in the study, participants will not receive the vaccine for some weeks, as per the media statement.
The trial has been approved by UK regulators and ethical reviewers. Researchers are working as quickly as possible to get the vaccine ready to be used in the trial, which includes further preclinical investigations and production of a larger number of doses of the vaccine.
Professor Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, said, “The Oxford team had exceptional experience of a rapid vaccine response, such as to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. This is an even greater challenge. Vaccines are being designed from scratch and progressed at an unprecedented rate. The upcoming trial will be critical for assessing the feasibility of vaccination against COVID-19 and could lead to early deployment.”
Professor Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the study, said, “Starting the clinical trials is the first step in the efforts to find out whether the new vaccine being developed at Oxford University works and could safely play a central role in controlling the pandemic coronavirus that is sweeping the globe.”