Coronavirus: Open Orphan to restart vaccine efforts

Company will deliberately expose humans to a coronavirus in bid for Covid-19 vaccine

Dublin-listed pharma services company Open Orphan is to reinitiate a project whereby humans will be deliberately infected with a coronavirus as part of efforts to develop a vaccine to Covid-19.

Open Orphan said on Monday that it would return to a project that was suspended by Hvivo, which it acquired last year, after concerns there was insufficient market demand for the product.

The company, which is a European-focussed, rare and orphan drug consulting services platform, said the project involves a “commercial human coronavirus challenge study model”.

These studies involve deliberate exposure of human volunteers to infectious agents, but contribute vital scientific knowledge that has led to advances in the development of drugs and vaccines.


Open Orphan said it is in early discussions with King & Wood Mallesons, acting on behalf of Chinese pharmaceutical and life science clients, to secure funding for the development of the study.

The cost of developing the project will primarily be funded by the company’s new Chinese pharmaceutical partner companies, who will get a return on their investment from royalties on the sale of the challenge study model.

London-based Hvivo is unique as it has Europe’s only commercial 24-bed quarantine clinic and on-site virology laboratory, which is where the project will be carried out.

The clinic is staffed by a highly experienced medical and scientific team, who to date have safely inoculated more than 3,000 volunteers.

Coronavirus strains

Open Orphan will use common coronavirus strains such as OC43 and 229E, which are from the same family of viruses as Covid-19.

Unlike Covid-19, the common coronaviruses have been widespread for many years and cause only mild cold-like respiratory illness and so they can safely be administered to volunteers.

For the purposes of the project, the common coronavirus strains such as OC43 will provide “an effective tool to obtain fast proof-of-concept data against this important family of viruses”.

It will then be used to test the efficacy and effectiveness of both new novel and existing vaccines and anti-virals. This will allow the effective selection of the best candidates and the effective products to be fast-tracked for subsequent field testing against Covid-19.

Prof John Oxford, chairman of Open Orphan’s Scientific Advisory Board, said the company felt obliged to contribute to efforts to develop a vaccine.

“A couple of years ago, the Hvivo scientific team started a project to potentially develop a coronavirus challenge study model but after a certain amount of work and effort they suspended this project because they didn’t see sufficient market demand for a coronavirus challenge study model,” he said.

“However, in recent weeks, the Hvivo scientific team led by Andrew Catchpole, their chief scientist, has reopened their coronavirus challenge study project and work files.

“Given the unfortunate circumstances of it now moving around the world, they and I felt that there was an obligation on us to reactivate the project and to do our best to now swiftly and effectively get a coronavirus challenge study model available to the market as soon as possible.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter