The first European vaccine for coronavirus disease to enter clinical trials has been administered to UK volunteers in a project led by the University of Oxford.

One volunteer was injected with the coronavirus vaccine and another with a control vaccine yesterday in a phase I trial that aims to recruit over 1,000 participants. The trial is expected to finish in May 2021, and the first results could be available in up to six months. 

The UK government also announced its support for the vaccine’s clinical development in the form of a €23M (£20M) grant.

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Normally, reaching this stage would take years,” the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, stated in a press conference. “I’m very proud of the work taken so far.”

The coronavirus disease pandemic, also known as Covid-19, has infected over two-and-a-half million people worldwide, killing more than 175,000. The pandemic’s impact has spurred dozens of organizations and research groups to develop vaccines against the disease.

The University of Oxford’s vaccine is based on a weakened strain of a virus called adenovirus, one of the most commonly used vectors in vaccines and gene therapies. The adenovirus is genetically modified to harmlessly produce a coronavirus protein called Spike once it’s injected, training the immune system against the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19.

The project to develop this vaccine includes vaccine research centers in Oxford, along with manufacturing partners Advent, Halix, Pall Biotech, Cobra Biologics, and Merck KGaA. With the help of these partners, the university expects to roll out large-scale vaccine production in two months, a fraction of the time it normally takes to set up vaccine manufacturing.

The university’s vaccine has hit clinical trials ahead of the most advanced European biotechs in the race, many of which use technology based on mRNA. One of the biggest players is a team-up between Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech, which plans to start clinical trials this month. The partners recently received approval to launch a phase I/II trial of their mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in Germany.

While the University of Oxford’s vaccine is the first European vaccine program to enter phase I, there are another five Covid-19 vaccine programs in clinical trials worldwide. These are run by the US companies Moderna and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, and the Chinese organizations Sinovac, CanSino, and the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

Along with the University of Oxford, Imperial College London also received a €26M (£22.5M) grant from the UK government this week to fund the phase II trials of an mRNA vaccine against Covid-19. This vaccine is yet to start phase I trials, which are expected to launch in June.


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