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First volunteers receive new trial coronavirus vaccine

Published: 24 April 2020

The first two healthy volunteers have been immunised with a new experimental coronavirus vaccine, developed with support from the NIHR.

The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is made from a harmless virus adenovirus that has been altered to produce the surface spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus uses its spike protein to bind to ACE2 receptors on the outside of human cells and gain entry to the cells, causing infection. The vaccine is designed to help the body recognise and develop an immune response to this spike protein.

The main focus of the trial is to find out if this new vaccine is going to work against COVID-19, if it won’t cause unacceptable side effects and if it induces good immune responses.

In total around 1,110 healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 55 will take part in the trial, with half receiving the vaccine and the other half (the control group) receiving a widely available meningitis vaccine.

The two healthy volunteers received their initial doses at the Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine in Oxford, with other study sites at the NIHR Clinical Research Facilities in Imperial and Southampton and at sites in Bristol and the South London and Surrey border area.

NIHR and UKRI provided initial funding of £2.2 million to Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team at the University of Oxford to support preclinical testing of the new vaccine and early clinical trials in people, with further support from NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

The team subsequently received an additional £22 million of funding from the Department of Health and Social Care to support their research.

Professor Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute, is leading the pre-clinical research. She said: "Personally I have a high degree of confidence in this vaccine.

"Of course, we have to test it and get data from humans. We have to demonstrate it actually works and stops people getting infected with coronavirus before using the vaccine in the wider population."

The later clinical stages of the trial have been designated an urgent public health study by the NIHR, to expedite set up and delivery of the full trials in the health and care system.

Professor Gilbert is working with another NIHR-funded team at Oxford led by Dr Sandy Douglas, which is aiming to develop manufacturing processes for producing adenovirus vaccines at a million-dose scale.

These preparations mean that vaccine manufacturing can scale-up immediately if the trials prove that the vaccine is safe and effective, so that plenty of vaccine doses are available as soon as possible – especially for NHS workers, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

Read more about the study on the University of Oxford website.

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