Coronavirus vaccine ‘rapid development’ as boffins unite for first April tests

A coronavirus vaccine could be available in the UK in months as Brit boffins work tirelessly to rescue the nation from the crisis.

Britain's top brains have a potential vaccine ready to be tested and massive efforts are in motion to get clinical trials underway as soon as next month, with the aim of saving lives before 2020 is done.

Top brains at Britain's elite Oxford University are understood to be planning the first trial of the potential vaccine on humans in April. The team at Oxford, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, will launch a larger trial if the initial one shows signs that the vaccine is a success at fighting of the killer bug.

Meanwhile scientists at the Government's health watchdog, Public Health England (PHE), are joining an international effort by evaluating potential vaccines before they hit clinical trials.

PHE teams have been awarded 500,000 US dollars (£464,700) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help finance their role in finding a drug to inoculate against Covid-19.

The grant is part of the US government's plans to help bolster the global response to the pandemic, PHE said.

The funding follows a request from international foundation the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) for PHE to assist in evaluating vaccines under development.

Meanwhile it is believed clinical trials for a vaccine developed by Oxford University could commence as soon as this April, PHE said.

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

It said it will start evaluation of the Oxford University vaccine next week, with clinical trials potentially commencing before the end of next month.

The vaccine will be tested on animals next week.

But there's a difference – things are being sped up.

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Prof Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford, told the Guardian that while tests on animals must normally be finished before scientists move onto humans, the work has been accelerated in this instance.

This is because trials of similar vaccines for other diseases have worked safely in the past.

The Prof told the paper: "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.

“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. The more vaccine we can provide sooner, the better.”

Meanwhile PHE will help evaluate and test different versions of vaccines as they are developed, a spokeswoman said, and expects to receive further funding from Cepi to finance this work.

Professor Miles Carroll, deputy director of the National Infection Service at PHE, said: "PHE is uniquely positioned to support and drive the country's hunt for a coronavirus vaccine – using tried and tested methods for the rapid development of interventions for emerging diseases.

"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."

Innovation minister Lord Bethell said: "It makes me so proud to see PHE Porton Down demonstrate its world-beating expertise with this US FDA award.

"It is a powerful testimony to the expertise and commitment of the remarkable PHE team at this historic site."

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said a vaccine would be available in 12 to 18 months.

But the Oxford scientists are aiming for much sooner than that.

Boris Johnson has claimed the UK can 'turn the tide' against coronavirus in the next 12 weeks.

Speaking at his daily briefing in Downing Street, he said "I am absolutely confident we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks" and "send the virus packing".

"I’m very confident we will get this thing done," he said. "I’m very confident we will beat coronavirus."

He said it would happen through scientific and social interventions. Yet moments after his 12-week boast, the Prime Minister admitted the disease might not even be over its peak by then.

He said Covid-19 was "not responding" to interventions and he could not specify exactly what turning the tide would look like.

This came as the death toll in England rose once again to 124.

Earlier today Scotland announced that three more people had died of Covid-19, taking the death toll to six.

A further 24 have been infected in Wales, bringing the total to 170, with two people having lost their lives so far.

It was announced earlier today that a coronavirus patient has died in Northern Ireland, the country's first Covid-19 fatality.

  • Animals
  • Coronavirus

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