The second coronavirus vaccine made in Britain is on track to start human trials as soon as Wednesday, and could cost just £3 per person if it’s proven to work.
Imperial College London scientists expect approval for the first phase of human trials – which will check if their vaccine is safe – to come through today.
The first 120 participants will be given the jab about 48 hours later after scientists have checked they haven’t already had the coronavirus.
Professor Robin Shattock, who has been in charge of developing the jab candidate, said the team want to make it as cheap as possible so the entire British population could be vaccinated for the ‘really good value’ of just under £200million.
The Imperial project already has enough money to produce enough of the vaccine for the entire NHS and all social care workers.
If the trial starting this week is successful a second one, involving 6,000 people, will come later. But Professor Shattock said the vaccine won’t be available until at least 2021 even if everything goes according to plan.
The first UK-made vaccine to go into clinical trials was developed by Oxford University, and the Government hopes it will be ready by September.
The second coronavirus vaccine from Britain is on track to start human trials as soon as Wednesday, and could cost as little as £3 per person if proven to work (stock image)
Professor Robin Shattock (pictured), who is heading up trials of the potential jab, estimates the British population could be covered for a ‘really good value’ of about £200million
Speaking to The Times, Professor Shattock said: ‘We already have money from the government to make five million doses — that would cover 2.5million people.
‘That is enough for the entire health service and for care home workers.
‘But we also have the capacity, should we be called upon, to make enough vaccine for all the adult population in the UK.’
He estimated the vaccine would be ‘roughly £3 for each person to be immune, assuming it works. That’s really good value.’
Imperial has formed a new social enterprise called VacEquity Global Health (VGH) to develop its vaccine.
Imperial and VGH will waive royalties for the UK and low-income countries ‘and charge only modest cost-plus prices to sustain the enterprise’s work, accelerate global distribution and support new research’, the College said in a statement.
What is the difference between the vaccines being developed by Oxford University and Imperial College?
The science behind both vaccine attempts hinges on recreating the ‘spike’ proteins that are found all over the outside of the COVID-19 viruses.
Both will attempt to recreate or mimic these spikes inside the body. The difference between the two is how they achieve this effect.
Imperial College London will try to deliver genetic material (RNA) from the coronavirus which programs cells inside the patient’s body to recreate the spike proteins. It will transport the RNA inside liquid droplets injected into the bloodstream.
The team at the University of Oxford, on the other hand, will genetically engineer a virus to look like the coronavirus – to have the same spike proteins on the outside – but be unable to cause any infection inside a person.
This virus, weakened by genetic engineering, is a type of virus called an adenovirus, the same as those which cause common colds, that has been taken from chimpanzees.
If the vaccines can successfully mimic the spikes inside a person’s bloodstream, and stimulate the immune system to create special antibodies to attack it, this could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get infected with it in future.
The same process is thought to happen in people who catch COVID-19 for real, but this is far more dangerous – a vaccine will have the same end-point but without causing illness in the process.
‘The social enterprise’s mission is to rapidly develop vaccines to prevent SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) infection and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and overseas, including to low- and middle-income countries,’ it said.
The technology used to make Imperial College London’s vaccine makes it easy to scale up production rapidly.
The team have taken the sequence for the surface protein of the virus, a tiny amount of genetic material known as RNA.
They would inject the genetic code into a person’s muscle – such as their arm – inside fat droplets.
The muscle cells are then told by the RNA to start expressing high levels of the coat proteins of the virus.
This creates the illusion of the virus inside the body. Because the outside of the coronavirus is present in the body, the immune system thinks the whole virus is there and starts to attack it. But the segments that are in the body are incomplete and unable to cause any illness.
After the immune system has reacted to something once, it should store the memory of how to do so in antibodies.
If these antibodies are produced, and remain in the body, someone can be considered protected from the virus in future.
It is hoped that if a person who receives the inoculation then contracts the coronavirus, they will be protected against COVID-19.
Because the piece of RNA is so tiny, a relatively small batch of them could be enough to vaccinate millions of people.
‘In the equivalent of a litre bottle of lemonade [of RNA], we can make up to two million doses,’ Professor Shattock said at a Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) webinar last week.
‘That’s very different to conventional approaches that might need 10,000 litres or more to make the same number of vaccines.
‘The advantage is we can make a lot of vaccine very quickly.’
The other leading British vaccine candidate, from University of Oxford, uses a different approach.
Known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine, researchers place genetic material from the coronavirus into another virus, called an adenovirus, that’s been modified.
They will then inject the virus into a human, hoping to produce an immune response against SARS-CoV-2 but not illness.
This could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get infected with it in future.
The Oxford vaccine, called AZD1222, has been in human trials since April 23, while Imperial’s trials are expected to start today.
The first 300 participants to be given the jab will be used to check the vaccine is safe in humans, having proven to be safe in animals.
A larger trial, involving about 6,000 people, will follow in October. The results wouldn’t be available until early 2021, the team believe.
How the vaccines from Imperial College London and Oxford University would work
The results from Oxford’s trial are expected in August at the earliest, but could be stalled because the level of infection in the UK is lower than before.
Despite the long list of processes ahead of the Oxford vaccine – including publication of data which needs to be validated by regulators – steps have been taken to get the vaccine ready by the autumn of this year.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in May the Government is hoping to be in a position to roll-out a mass vaccination programme in the autumn of this year.
Drug firm AstraZeneca has secured a deal with the Oxford team to manufacture the vaccine.
Pascal Soriot, chief executive of Cambridge-based AstraZeneca, said mass production has already started at factories in India, Oxford, Switzerland and Norway.
OXFORD TEAM TESTING VACCINE IN BRAZIL BECAUSE THERE ARE SO FEW CASES IN THE UK
The University of Oxford announced this month that it will test its vaccine candidate in Brazil.
Falling levels of the virus circulating in Britain, where the outbreak is fading, means it will be increasingly difficult to test the vaccine because there is nothing to test it against.
In Brazil, however, Covid-19 cases are still rising rapidly and its outbreak is second only to the US, with 868,000 confirmed diagnoses and over 43,000 dead.
The vaccine will be tested on 2,000 people working in healthcare environments between the ages of 18 and 55, said the Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is in charge of the study.
The president of the university, Soraya Smaili, said the volunteers ‘must be health professionals between 18 and 55 years old and be at high risk of infection, for example, cleaning and support staff in units treating COVID-19 patients’.
Professor Smaili added the vaccine was being tested in Brazil ‘ecause we are in the acceleration phase of the epidemiological curve’.
Britain, on the other hand, is coming out the other side of its peak and case numbers are declining, meaning it will be hard to measure the effects of a vaccine because so few people are getting infected.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he said: ‘We are starting to manufacture this vaccine right now. And we have to have it ready to be used by the time we have the results.’
A deal has been was signed to produce 100million doses of Oxford’s vaccine for the UK – 30million of which will be ready by September if it is proven to work.
AstraZeneca has agreed to supply a coalition of European nations with 400million doses of a vaccine.
It made the agreement with the Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), which includes France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
The IVA was formed this month in order to give its members ‘a stronger negotiating position in the race for a coronavirus vaccine’, according to a statement from the Netherlands government.
Both the Oxford University and Imperial College London vaccine projects are viewed as two of the world’s ‘frontrunners’.
But Professor Shattock said there are ‘quite a lot of differences’ between the vaccines developed by Imperial and Oxford.
Professor Shattock said: ‘We are often pitted against each other or seen to be in race.
‘But actually we are collaborating closely together and exchanging material. The two approaches may well be able to be used together in a prime boost approach.
‘So we are not actually trying to beat each other, but work together to make a vaccine available in the fastest possible time.’
Professor Shattock added: ‘There is no guarantee or certainty that A; a vaccine will work, and B; that data is reliable and robust enough to get it licensed.
‘There is a lot of speculation. We really need to deal with facts and data rather than overpromising and under delivering.’