The first results from a promising vaccine for the new coronavirus, COVID-19, could be out as soon as mid-June, according to one of the lead researchers at Oxford University where they are conducting trials.
The researchers are currently testing the vaccine on around 1,100 people between the ages of 18 and 55 who have not tested positive for COVID-19. Testing began on April 23, following a successful study of the vaccine at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory on rhesus macaque monkeys.
"This is still a development program. We need still to demonstrate that this vaccine works in human populations," Oxford professor John Bell told BBC Radio. "But the team … have vaccinated several hundred people now and we hope to get some signal about whether it's working by the middle of June."
Typically, vaccines take between 12-18 months to develop, and all treatments are thoroughly tested through clinical trials to get regulatory approval before they can hit the market.
Drug manufacturer AstraZeneca has already signed on to distribute the vaccine worldwide if it is shown to work. The company and the researchers at Oxford hope this will enable them to get the vaccine out as soon as possible.
"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,” Bell said. “And we also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale.”
If the vaccine is approved, it could be ready for limited use by the end of 2020.
"Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalization of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation," AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC.
The researchers said in a press release on April 23 that the vaccine is made from a “weakened version of a common cold virus,” which is another type of coronavirus. They hope the vaccine will help the body “recognize and develop an immune response” to the virus and prevent infection.
At that point, the vaccine had “been given to more than 320 people … and have been shown to be safe” with minimal side effects. They hope to expand testing to an additional 5,000 people by the end of May.
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