Oxford's potential coronavirus vaccine made from weakened chimpanzee virus enters clinical trials

It is one of the seven potential vaccines that are currently in clinical trials. It took the team three months to design the vaccine


                            Oxford's potential coronavirus vaccine made from weakened chimpanzee virus enters clinical trials
(Getty Images)

Oxford University has kick-started human trials of its potential coronavirus vaccine.  If everything goes according to plan, the vaccine might be available to the public by September this year.

It is one of the seven potential vaccines that are currently in clinical trials. More than 100 other potential vaccines are expected to enter trials, according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Oxford's potential vaccine is designed to protect healthy individuals from catching the disease. The current trial will evaluate its safety and efficacy. "The main focus of the study is to find out if this vaccine is going to work against COVID-19," reads a statement from Oxford University. It will also test if the vaccine induces unacceptable side-effects.

Dr. Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute, and her team took only three months to design the vaccine. "I have a high degree of confidence in this vaccine. Of course, we have to test it and get data from humans. We have to demonstrate it works and stops people from getting infected with coronavirus before using the vaccine in the wider population," she told The BBC.

The trial will test how healthy volunteers -- individuals who have not tested positive for the new coronavirus --respond to the vaccine. (Getty Images)

On March 23, two healthy volunteers received their first jab. The Oxford team is hoping to recruit up to 1,102 participants for the trial, over half of them will receive the potential vaccine and the other half a control vaccine against meningitis, an infection of the protective layers surrounding the brain and the spinal cord.

"I am a scientist, so I wanted to try to support the scientific process wherever I can," Elisa Granato, one of the two who received the jab, told the BBC.

The trial will test how healthy volunteers - individuals who have not tested positive for the new coronavirus - respond to the vaccine. In the days ahead, the team will closely monitor and compare the health of volunteers - both vaccinated and control groups. The trial will prove successful if more individuals in the vaccinated group do not catch COVID-19. 

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine contains a weakened version of a virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. They then combined this virus called the adenovirus with a coronavirus protein called spike protein.

The vaccine - dubbed ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 - can only activate the body's defenses but is incapable of growing or infecting human cells. "By vaccinating with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, we are hoping to make the body recognize 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," reads a statement from Oxford University.

Meanwhile, the UK also is looking forward to the trials of another potential vaccine developed by London’s Imperial University. It is expected to begin in June.

“Both of these promising projects [Oxford and Imperial]  are making rapid progress and I've told the scientists leading them we will do everything in our power to support,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street briefing on Tuesday. “After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it," he added. 

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