Coronavirus vaccine ‘may never be found’

Elsewhere researchers at Imperial have developed a candidate which, when injected, will deliver the genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike surface protein.

This should provoke an immune response and create immunity to the virus.

The team, led by Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease, has been testing the candidate in animals since early February.

Clinical trials are expected to begin in June and the team will look to recruit healthy adults to test the vaccine.

Results could be available as soon as September, the researchers say. The trial is not yet open to recruitment, but will be announced in due course.

Dr Katrina Pollock, Clinical Research Fellow in Vaccinology, who will be leading the work at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus, said: “This is the first-in human trial for this candidate vaccine and an important step towards developing a safe and effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

“Our clinical team is excited to begin trials as a key centre in this landmark study to combat Covid-19.”  

UK vaccine taskforce  

On April 17, the government launched a taskforce designed to “rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine”, as well as scale up manufacturing so it can be quickly produced and delivered in mass quantities.

It will be led by Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Jonathan van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, and members will include AstraZeneca and the Wellcome Trust.

The government has initially earmarked £14 million to plough into 21 coronavirus research projects – such as the work by the scientists at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. On April 21, an announcement of a further £44.5 million for the Oxford and Imperial trials increased this funding further still.

In America, the US government had committed to a $1 billion (£800m) Covid-19 vaccine deal with titan Johnson & Johnson, co-financing research through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (Barda).

Human trials on the vaccine have already started in the US – breaking records for the speed with which such trials can get off the ground. Healthy volunteers in America are being given the new-generation “genetic hack” after it bypassed standard animal testing as part of a highly-accelerated process.

Alongside vaccine development, doctors are trialling existing drugs for viruses such as Ebola, malaria and HIV. Early results seem promising but, until full clinical trials have been concluded, doctors cannot be certain that the drugs are effective. 

It has also been reported that GSK and Sanofi have teamed up to develop a coronavirus treatment, and plan to have a vaccine ready for testing by the end of 2020.

How long does it take to make a vaccine and why?

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