Oxford scientists working on coronavirus vaccine will know in six weeks if it’s likely to work… and the NHS will get ‘first dibs’ on supplies
- Several hundred people have been given jab in first British Covid-19 vaccine trial
- University of Oxford teamed up with AstraZeneca to mass produce if successful
- Sir John Bell said 30 to 40 million doses are needed to inoculate the vulnerable
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Scientists working on a vaccine for coronavirus could know within six weeks if it is likely to work.
Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said ‘several hundred’ people have now been given the jab in the first British trial to find a vaccine.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he hopes ‘some signal’ about whether it works could emerge by mid-June.
A team at the University of Oxford, who are among the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine, have joined forces with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to try to mass-produce it if their vaccine is successful.
Professor Bell said the NHS will have priority access to the inoculation, which will be provided on a cost-only basis during the pandemic, if it proves to be effective.
Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said ‘several hundred’ people have now been given the jab in the first British trial to find a vaccine for coronavirus
‘The priority is the heath service,’ he said. ‘If AstraZeneca makes [the vaccine] here, which they will, they’ve agreed to prioritise the UK. And the NHS will get “first dibs” on all the stuff made here.’
He added 30 to 40 million doses will be needed to be able to inoculate vulnerable people immediately, explaining: ‘Once we get an approval by the regulators, we don’t want to have to go back to the beginning and work out how we manufacture it at scale.
‘We also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale so that it gets to populations in developing countries, for example, where the need is very great.’
Professor Bell said AstraZeneca would have a ‘big job’ in the UK because manufacturing capacity for vaccines ‘isn’t where it needs to be’.
Vaccination of volunteers for coronavirus began last week, with 510 signed up for the first clinical trial run by the University of Oxford.
The team working on the vaccine at the Jenner Institute hope that, if it proves to be successful, a million doses could be administered to the public in September.
Vaccination of volunteers for coronavirus began last week, with 510 signed up for the first clinical trial run by the University of Oxford (Pictured: Elisa Granato being injected as part of human trials in the UK for a coronavirus vaccine)
Pictured: The University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus, which houses the Jenner Institute and is where human trials of a coronavirus vaccine are taking place
Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the project, has given the vaccine an 80 per cent chance of success.
Professor Bell said: ‘The team in Oxford have done a great job, they’ve vaccinated several hundred people now, and we hope to get some signal about whether it’s working by the middle of June.’
The team are using a weakened version of a virus which causes chimpanzees to get common colds, but cannot cause illness in humans.
Injected into human muscle cells, it encourages the cells to produce the protein that forms the ‘spikes’ on the outside of the coronavirus.
This is hoped to train someone’s immune system to recognise the spike proteins, so they can fight off the coronavirus if they become infected in future.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said that investment in a new coronavirus vaccine is a risk worth taking for his company.
‘It is definitely a risk to launch into development of this vaccine, but now is the time to take those risks – this is a terrible crisis we’re facing, and we need solutions,’ he told the Today programme.
A team at the University of Oxford, who are among the frontrunners in the race to find a vaccine, have joined forces with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to try to mass-produce it if their vaccine is successful (Pictured: The Old Road Campus of the University of Oxford)
Pictured: A tester wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) holds a test swab at a drive through coronavirus testing site at IKEA in Wembley, north London
Mr Soriot added he hoped that the vaccine would not be the only one produced.
‘The demand, as you can imagine, will be large if vaccines work, and my hope is that several vaccines will be available to supply the needs of the various countries around the world,’ he said.
Mr Soriot also said there is agreement between companies within the pharmaceutical industry to help one another with production, and that the intention is to supply the vaccine free of charge during the pandemic.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was ‘hugely welcome news’ that Oxford University had come to an agreement with AstraZeneca to scale up its coronavirus vaccine.
He tweeted: ‘The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced in the world. Bringing together the best British science and the best of British business will give us the best possible shot at a vaccine.
‘The science is uncertain, and no vaccine may work, but this deal gives the UK the best chance we can of a breakthrough that could defeat this awful virus. I’m sending best wishes for good fortune to all involved – for the sake of the nation and indeed the whole world.’
There are more than 70 potential vaccines being developed around the world, and Imperial College London will begin recruiting for its own trial in June.
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