The UK Government has launched a new coronavirus vaccine taskforce to drive forward, expedite and co-ordinate efforts to research and then produce a coronavirus vaccine. It has also announced additional financial support to fast-track coronavirus vaccine development as human clinical trials are expected to start this week.
The coronavirus vaccine taskforce, led by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan van Tam, will support efforts to rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible by providing industry and research institutions with the resources and support needed. This includes reviewing regulations and scaling up manufacturing, so that when a vaccine becomes available, it can be produced quickly and in mass quantities.
Representatives from government, academia and industry are coming together to form the taskforce. Members will include government Life Sciences Champion Sir John Bell, as well as AstraZeneca, and the Wellcome Trust.
The taskforce will focus on five strands of activity including:
- Supporting the discovery of potential coronavirus vaccines by working with the public and private sector, rapidly mobilising funding, supporting leading academics and identifying ways to fast-track clinical trials.
- Preparing the UK as a leader in clinical vaccine testing and manufacturing, working with companies already at the forefront of vaccine development.
- Reviewing government regulations to facilitate rapid and safe vaccine trials.
- Developing funding and operational plans for the procurement and delivery of vaccines.
- Building on the UK’s research and development expertise to support international efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine.
The taskforce is also working closely with the Bioindustry Association, which has set up an industry-led group, to accelerate vaccine development and manufacturing.
Human clinical trials
This has been followed by an announcement from the Heath and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock MP that the Government is investing in two coronavirus vaccine projects that will move into human clinical trials.
Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine trial is set to receive £20m. The trial is a collaboration between the University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group clinical teams and they intend to start human trials this week.
In a statement, Prof. Andrew Pollard, Prof. Sarah Gilbert and Prof. Adrian Hill from the Oxford team said: “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.
“Although it seems like a very long time since the work started, in reality it is less than four months since we first heard of an outbreak of severe pneumonia cases, and began to plan a response. Our brilliant team has been working tirelessly to get to this point using our skills and experience in vaccine development and testing, and will do the best job possible in moving quickly whilst at all times prioritising the safety of the trial participants.”
£22.5m has been made available to Imperial College London to fast-track its development of a vaccine. The work, led by Professor Robin Shattock in the Department of Infectious Disease, was one of two coronavirus vaccines to receive new financial support, with Oxford University receiving an additional £20 million.
Professor Shattock’s team has been testing an RNA vaccine candidate in animals since early February. When injected, the self-amplifying RNA vaccine will deliver genetic instructions to muscle cells to make the ‘spike’ protein on the surface of the coronavirus. This should provoke an immune response and create immunity to COVID-19.
Early findings have shown that animals given the vaccine are able to produce neutralising antibodies against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The team is currently developing the vaccine further and will test whether it can produce the same response in humans, which could ultimately protect against COVID-19.
The Health Secretary announced that the latest funding will “support Phase II clinical trials which are going to assess a sample of several thousand, and for them to begin the work subsequently on a very large phase III trial.”