The trials, partially funded by the UK, are the first human tests of a technology that researchers say could transform vaccine development by enabling rapid responses to emerging diseases such as the infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2.
Scientists at Imperial College London will start the first clinical trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine this week with more than $56.5 million in backing from the UK government and philanthropic donors.
The trials are the first human tests of a new technology that researchers say could transform vaccine development by enabling rapid responses to emerging diseases such as the Covid-19 infection caused by the new coronavirus.
How does it work?
Robin Shattock, a professor at Imperial's department of infectious disease who is leading this work, said that rather than using a part of the virus, as many vaccines do, this potential vaccine uses synthetic strands of the virus' genetic material, RNA, which are packaged inside tiny fat droplets.
When injected, it instructs muscle cells to produce virus proteins to protect against future infection. In animal tests, the vaccine was shown to be safe and showed "encouraging signs of an effective immune response", Shattock's team said in a statement.
“In the long term, a viable vaccine could be vital for protecting the most vulnerable, enabling restrictions to be eased and helping people get back to normal life,” said Robin Shattock.
The vaccine uses synthetic strands of genetic code based on the virus. Once injected into the muscle, the body's own cells are instructed to make copies of a spiky protein on the coronavirus.
That should in turn trigger an immune response so that the body can fight off any future Covid-19 infection.
Initial human trials on 300 volunteers
Around 300 healthy volunteers will receive two doses of the vaccine in the initial human trials to test whether it is safe in people and whether it produces an effective immune response against Covid-19.
If it shows promise, larger trials with around 6,000 people would be planned for later this year.
The race to develop Covid-19 vaccines
About a dozen vaccine candidates are currently in early stages of testing in thousands of people.
There are no guarantees any will work but there’s increasing hope that at least some could be ready by the end of the year.
Oxford University recently began an advanced study involving 10,000 volunteers, and the US is preparing for even larger studies in July that involve 30,000 people each testing different candidates, including Oxford’s and one made by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc.
Scientists have never created vaccines from scratch this fast and it’s far from clear that any will ultimately prove safe and effective. Still, numerous countries, including Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the US, have already placed advance orders for millions of vaccines that could be available by the end of the year if they prove to be effective.
More than 100 potential Covid-19 vaccines are in development around the world, including several already in human trials from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Sanofi and CanSino Biologics.
Business secretary Alok Sharma, said Imperial's was "one of the world's front-runners" and had Britain's full backing.
The World Health Organization noted on Monday that there have been about 100,000 new cases reported every day for the past two weeks and that relaxed restrictions in many countries have led to a new surge of cases.