Researchers at the University of Oxford have begun testing a COVID-19 vaccine in human volunteers this week. The phase I trial was funded by UKRI and NIHR as part of the rapid research response.
COVID-19 vaccine begins human trial stage
The phase I clinical trial is to test whether healthy people can be protected from COVID-19 with this new vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. It will also provide valuable information on safety aspects of the vaccine and its ability to generate good immune responses against the virus.
Around 1,110 people will take part in the trial, half receiving the vaccine and the other half (the control group) receiving a widely available meningitis vaccine.
Of the first two volunteers to take part on Thursday, one received the vaccine and the other the control.
The researchers started screening healthy volunteers (aged 18-55) in March for their upcoming trial.
The UKRI/DHSC/NIHR rapid response funding for the project, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert at the University of Oxford, supported preclinical testing of the new vaccine and is supporting vaccine manufacturing and then clinical trials in people.
MRC Executive Chair, Professor Fiona Watt, said: “It is truly inspiring to see the team led by Professor Sarah Gilbert putting their coronavirus vaccine into early-stage clinical trials in humans so quickly.
“The speed at which the UKRI-funded teams at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London have developed potential coronavirus vaccines is unprecedented.”
The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is made from a virus (ChAdOx1), which is a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infections in chimpanzees, that has been genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Genetic material has been added to the ChAdOx1 construct, that is used to make proteins from the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) called Spike glycoprotein (S). This protein is usually found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 and plays an essential role in the infection pathway of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses its spike protein to bind to ACE2 receptors on human cells to gain entry to the cells and cause an infection.
By vaccinating with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, they 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.
Vaccines made from the ChAdOx1 virus have been given to more than 320 people to date and have been shown to be safe and well tolerated, although they can cause temporary side effects, such as a temperature, headache or sore arm.
The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health.