Imperial College to begin human trials for COVID-19 vaccine

Imperial College to begin human trials for COVID-19 vaccine thumbnail

Scientists at Imperial College London are preparing to begin human trials this week on a potential coronavirus vaccine.

A total of 300 healthy people will be given two doses of the vaccine, which has been found during animal testing to cause higher levels of antibodies to COVID-19 than normally produced in those who have the illness.

If it appears to be safe in humans, the trial could be widened to 6,000 people later in the year.

The trial, backed by £41 million of government funding and £5 million in philanthropic donations, is the second British vaccine candidate to reach human trials after Oxford University.

Rather than using the virus itself, Imperial’s vaccine injects synthetic strands of genetic material into muscle, which prompts the body to create copies of a coronavirus protein that triggers immune system protection.

Robin Shattock, a professor leading the research at Imperial, said a vaccine in the longer term would be “vital for protecting the most vulnerable” and for “enabling restrictions to be eased and helping people get back to normal life.”

He added that the potential vaccine had so far shown “encouraging signs of an effective immune response”.

There are currently around a dozen potential vaccines undergoing human studies, including the Oxford vaccine, which has recently started an advanced trial with 10,000 volunteers.

Others include AstraZeneca, Pfizer, BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Sanofi and CanSino Biologics.

The US is also planning a study involving 30,000 participants to compare various candidates, including Oxford.

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Vaccines usually take years to develop, and it is not clear whether any of those currently being tested will ultimately be safe and effective for use.

But many scientists have also warned that the only way to stop the virus in its tracks would be to find an effective vaccine, leading to the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US already placing advanced orders on any candidate that proves successful.