Testing for coronavirus vaccine could start next month

Scientists at Public Health England given go-ahead for accelerated human testing

Trials of a coronavirus vaccine could begin within the next month, the British government’s health agency has said, as it prepares to start evaluating a drug developed by Oxford University.

Scientists at Public Health England (PHE) could sanction human testing well ahead of the usual time frame for drug development.

The health agency is only due to start preliminary evaluation of the vaccine on animals next week.

PHE researchers have collaborated with teams at Liverpool and Bristol universities to create an exact replica of Covid-19 for use in the testing process.


Those behind the vaccine have been given permission to commence human trials before animal tests are complete, according to the Guardian newspaper, in an attempt to accelerate the development process.

Permission was granted after similar vaccines developed for other diseases were proved safe in human trials.

“We are conscious that a vaccine is needed as soon as possible and certainly by June-July when we expect a big peak in mortality,” said Prof Adrian Hill, head of the Jenner Institute at Oxford. “This is not a normal situation. We will follow all standard trial safety requirements, but as soon as we have a vaccine that’s working we anticipate there will be an accelerated pathway to get it deployed to save lives.”

Prof Hill added that the sooner the vaccine could be provided, the better.

The team at the institute only began work on the drug on January 10th this year.

Earlier this month, Anthony Fauci, director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expected it would be at least 12 to 18 months before a coronavirus vaccine is available widely.

The Jenner institute said it had based the drug on an “adenovirus vaccine vector” based on an adenovirus isolated from a chimpanzee.

An adenovirus is a group of viruses that typically infect membranes of the eyes, respiratory tract, urinary tract, intestines and nervous system.

“Chimpanzee adenoviral vectors are a very well studied vaccine type, having been used safely in thousands of subjects, from one week to 90 years of age, in vaccines targeting over 10 different diseases,” said the Jenner Institute.

It said among its advantages is that it can “generate a strong immune response from one dose” and is safe to use on people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes.

PHE has been awarded almost £500,000 by the US Food and Drug Administration to help finance its role in evaluating the vaccine. The grant is part of the US government’s plans to help bolster the global response to the pandemic, according to Public Health England.

The funding follows a request from international foundation the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations for PHE to assist in evaluating different vaccines under development around the world.

Prof Miles Carroll, deputy director of the National Infection Service at PHE, said: “We look forward to continuing to work with world-leading academic and pharmaceutical partners to accelerate progress towards safe and effective interventions to limit the impact of this new infection as rapidly as possible.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson revealed on Thursday that the first British patient had been put in a randomised trial for a treatment for coronavirus.

Mr Johnson also described the government’s plans to purchase antibody tests on a massive scale to detect if someone has had the disease as “a game changer”. – PA