There are now more than 70 vaccines currently being developed globally, including here in North America, as research teams race to find a successful vaccine against the novel coronavirus and help countries escape lockdowns.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that more than 70 vaccines are being developed globally for Covid-19, which has infected more than two million people and killed 128,886 across the world.
However, experts say there is still a long road ahead to find out if they work. Timelines for when a vaccine becomes widely available remain at 12 to 18 months.
Meanwhile, Oxford University scientists are to begin human trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine next week. Researchers said the jab could be ready to be rolled out for emergency use by the autumn following significant progress in the early stages of development.
The Oxford team has tested the vaccine successfully on several animal species.
Researchers at the University of Oxford are aiming to get efficacy results of a clinical trial and be able to produce a million doses by September. The researchers have recruited 500 volunteers from the age group of 18 to 55 for early and mid-stage randomised controlled trials, reports Bloomberg. It will then be extended to older adults and to a final stage trial of 5,000 people, Sarah Gilbert, the lead researcher developing the vaccine, said.
The team at the University of Oxford had been preparing for an event like the Covid-19 pandemic before the current global outbreak, reports BBC. They had already created a genetically engineered chimpanzee virus that would form the basis for the new vaccine. They then combined it with parts of the new coronavirus, it reports.
The Oxford team join three other groups of researchers – two in the United States and one in China – in beginning trials on humans.
At the University of Western Ontario, Chil-Yong Kang, a professor of virology, and his team have been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to find a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Their work is being built on research done for a vaccine candidate Kang previously produced for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), caused by a coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19.
Coronaviruses invade human cells through so-called “spike proteins” — the crowns or corona on the virus — which bind to cell receptors and then begin infection. “If you make an antibody against that spike protein, it will cover up the spike and it will not be able to attach to the cell,” Kang said. “There you have a prevention of infection.”
Kang said his team is working to make six different versions of the vaccine candidate and hopes to have human trials underway by July or August. “We come in every day, and lab workers are here sometimes 12 or 13 hours a day,” he said. “We have both a responsibility and a deep sense of duty to end this COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Oxford University project has recruited 510 people, ranging from 18 to 55 years old, to take part in the trials, said lead researcher Professor Adrian Hill.
“We are going into human trials next week. We have tested the vaccine in several different animal species,” he added. “We have taken a fairly cautious approach, but a rapid one to assess the vaccine that we are developing.”
Professor Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinologist at Oxford, has said she is “80 per cent” confident it will be a success. There is now hope that the jab, developed by the clinical teams at the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, could be ready from as early as September.
“We’re a university, we have a very small in house manufacturing facility that can do dozens of doses. That’s not good enough to supply the world, obviously,” he told the BBC World Service.
“We are working with manufacturing organizations and paying them to start the process now.
“So by the time July, August, September comes – whenever this is looking good – we should have the vaccine to start deploying under emergency use recommendations.
“That’s a different approval process to commercial supply, which often takes many more years.
“There is no point in making a vaccine that you can’t scale up and may only get 100,000 doses for after a huge amount of investment. “You need a technology that allows you to make not millions but ideally billions of doses over a year.”
The UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said it would be “very lucky” if a coronavirus vaccine was widely available within a year. Sir Patrick told ITV: ”A vaccine that can be used generally – we’d be very lucky to get one within a year.”