A coronavirus vaccine being developed by Oxford University has begun human trials with the first two patients being injected with the potential vaccine.
Two volunteers were injected on Thursday, with one receiving the vaccine and the other receiving a control – a widely available meningitis vaccine, the University said. The pair will be monitored for 48 hours, before six more people enter the trial on Saturday and a larger number will join at the beginning of next week.
Researchers said if transmission in the community remains high they may have enough data to see if the vaccine works “in a couple of months”, but if transmission levels drop it could take up to six months. Scientists at Oxford have previously said the aim is to produce a million doses of the vaccine by September.
Around 1,110 people will take part in the trial with half being injected with control and half with the vaccine. Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the Oxford vaccine team, has previously said she’s “80% confident” the vaccine will work.
The vaccine has been made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees, which has been modified so it is impossible to grow in humans. Proteins from the Covid-19 virus – Spike glycoprotein – have then been added. “We are hoping to make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the Spike protein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection,” the University said.
Earlier this U.K. health secretary Matt Hancock pledged financial support to the project, and revealed the human trial would begin on Thursday.
The U.K. government will provide £20 million ($24 million) to the university’s team and a further £22.5 million to Imperial College, where scientists are also working on a vaccine. Scientists at Oxford have previously said the aim is to produce a million doses of the vaccine by September.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock praised both teams for making “rapid progress” and said the U.K. will throw “everything we’ve got” at developing a vaccine.
He 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,” Hancock said.
However, he insisted vaccine development was a “process of trial and error and trial again.”
The Oxford University project, a collaboration between the university’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, opened recruitment for the clinical trial — for healthy adults between 18 and 55 — at the end of March, having begun research on a vaccine against the coronavirus-borne disease COVID-19 in February.
Praising the team, Hancock said reaching this stage in normal times would “take years.”
Speaking at the end of March, Adrian Hill, director of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, 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.”