Coronavirus vaccine trials: Scientists seeking 10,000 volunteers

22 May 2020, 07:18

The vaccine uses a virus taken from chimpanzees.
The vaccine uses a virus taken from chimpanzees. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Researchers in Southampton have started recruiting clinical trials volunteers which they hope could help bring a coronavirus vaccine later this year.

Scientists are seeking up to 10,260 people from the area who would be willing to trial the coronavirus vaccine in the area after work started in January on the project.

The study being run at the University Hospital Southampton (UHS) and the University of Southampton is looking at a vaccine created from a virus found in chimpanzees and has been developed by the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group.

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The initial phase of the trials involved 160 health volunteers between 18 and 55.

Phases II and III involve vastly increasing the number of volunteers while expanding the age range to include older adults and children.

"The early stages of the Phase I trial have gone very well and we're grateful for the many volunteers from Southampton who have come forward to help us assess the safety of the new vaccine and if healthy people can be protected from Covid-19," said Saul Faust, professor of paediatric immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, and director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility at UHS.

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"We would now very much like to invite people from the Southampton area whose work brings them into possible contact with Covid patients or who are healthy and in the older age groups to take part in the next stage of trials of this Oxford Covid vaccine.

"This is one of only four vaccine trials underway worldwide and could pave the way for a vaccine to be delivered later this year."

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Initially, researchers are aiming to recruit up to 620 new volunteers in three categories:

- 250 people aged 18-55 who have come into contact, or possible contact, with Covid-19 patients due to their work, such as health and care workers, cleaners, and dentists

- 120 otherwise healthy people aged over 70

- a further healthy group of 250 people aged at least 55

Researchers will assess the immune response to the vaccine in people of different ages, to determine how well the immune system responds in older people or children.

Adult participants in the phase II and phase III groups will be randomised to receive one or two doses of either a vaccine known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, or a licensed vaccine (MenACWY) that will be used as a 'control' for comparison.

ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed to make it impossible for it to grow in humans.

This has been combined with genes that make proteins from the Covid-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) which play a key role in the infection pathway of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Production of the vaccine has already been scaled up ahead of the trial to prepare as early as possible for potential future deployment, the University of Southampton said.

AstraZeneca said this week it had the capacity to manufacture one billion doses of the University of Oxford's potential Covid-19 vaccine and would begin supply in September.

The pharmaceutical firm said it has secured the first agreements for at least 400 million doses of the vaccine.