Scientists at Imperial College London will start the first clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine this week with more than 45 million pounds ($56.50 million) in backing from the British government and philanthropic donors.
The trials are the first human tests of a new technology which the researchers say could transform vaccine development by enabling rapid responses to emerging diseases such as the COVID-19 infection caused by the new coronavirus.
Robin Shattock, a professor at Imperial’s department of infectious disease, 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.
About 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 about 6,000 people would be set up later this year.
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.
Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, welcomed the addition of Imperial’s vaccine and said that having a wide range of approaches increases the chance of success.
“This vaccine candidate…differs from other ongoing trials in that it uses novel RNA technology,” he said.
The Imperial team won £41 million pounds in funding from the UK government and received £5 million in philanthropic donations.