First UK human trials for Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to start next week

Human trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed at Oxford University are to begin on Thursday (April 28), UK health secretary Matt Hancock announced today.

Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial to start on Thursday

The trial is a collaboration between the University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group clinical teams and will recruit up to 510 volunteers, who will receive either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or a control injection for comparison.

Up to 510 participants enrolled in the Oxford vaccine trial

Healthy volunteers aged between 18 – 55 from the Thames Valley Region will be the first humans to test the new coronavirus vaccine ChAdOx1. The trial will provide important insight into the safety of the vaccine and its ability to generate an immune response.

Detailed preclinical study is still underway and it is likely to take several weeks before participants receive the Oxford vaccine. But the trial has been approved by UK regulators and ethics committee and the vaccine is already being manufactured to clinical-grade standard at the Clinical Biomanufacturing Facility at Oxford University.

COVID-19’s spike gene

The new COVID-19 vaccine contains the genetic sequence of the surface spike protein inside the ChAdOx1 construct. After vaccination, the surface spike protein of the coronavirus is produced, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body.

UK Government pledges £20 million

At the daily 10 Downing Street press briefing Matt Hancock said that the UK government was “throwing everything” at the search for a vaccine and announced he was providing £20 million to the Oxford University team to help fund their clinical trials. A further £22.5 million was pledged for researchers at Imperial College London.

Following the government’s announcement, Prof. Andrew Pollard, Prof. Sarah Gilbert and Prof. Adrian Hill issued the following statement:

“The Oxford Covid vaccine team are delighted with Tuesday’s announcement by the Secretary of State for Health of funding for the evaluation of the new COVID19 vaccine. This week we will start the process of vaccine evaluation in our first human studies and are currently focussing all efforts on preparing for the start of the trials.”

The Oxford team led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor Andrew Pollard, Professor Teresa Lambe, Dr Sandy Douglas and Professor Adrian Hill started developing a COVID-19 vaccine in mid-January of 2020. The team has previous experience developing a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine (ChAdOx1)

The Oxford vaccine is an adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1). The technology was chosen by the team for its ability to generate a strong immune response from one dose and it is not a replicating virus, so it cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual, making it safer for children, diabetics and people with existing pre-conditions.

Large-scale COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing

At the press conference Mr Hancock added that the government will be investing in manufacturing capability so that if either the Oxford University or Imperial College vaccine works safely, it will be made available to the UK public “as early as humanly possible”.

Dr Sandy Douglas, who is leading the Oxford vaccine manufacturing scale-up project, said:

“The scale of this epidemic poses a huge challenge for vaccine manufacturing. We need to follow rigorous safety standards and that takes time. By starting work on large-scale manufacturing immediately, we hope to accelerate the availability of high quality, safe vaccine.”