Vaccine results shot in the arm for Covid fight

Published in The Lancet, the peer-reviewed report showed that the 1,077 healthy adults who were given the AZD1222 vaccine did not develop any serious side effects, and their bodies developed an immune response that could protect people for a significant amount of time.
In this handout photo released by the University of Oxford a volunteer participates in the vaccine trial in Oxford, England on July 7, 2020.(AP)
In this handout photo released by the University of Oxford a volunteer participates in the vaccine trial in Oxford, England on July 7, 2020.(AP)
Updated on Jul 21, 2020 03:41 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, London/ New Delhi | ByPrasun Sonwalkar

A vaccine for Covid-19 developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca was safe and produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials, data showed on Monday, raising hopes that the world could soon find a way to stop the virus that has taken an unprecedented human and economic toll across the planet.

Published in The Lancet, the peer-reviewed report showed that the 1,077 healthy adults who were given the AZD1222 vaccine did not develop any serious side effects, and their bodies developed an immune response that could protect people for a significant amount of time.

The results came separately as two other vaccine candidates – one being developed in China and the other in Germany – reported positive results from their studies. The Oxford vaccine candidate is largely considered the front-runner since it has carried out trials on the widest set of people among all.

Also read: Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate is safe, early results show

Adrian Hill, the head of the Oxford University’s Jenner Institute that invented the vaccine candidate, said that it was possible that the vaccine would become available by the end of the year, news agency Reuters reported. “There might be a million doses manufactured by September: that now seems like a remarkable underestimate, given the scale of what’s going on,” said Hill, referring to the manufacturing capability of partner AstraZeneca.

“Certainly there’ll be a million doses around in September. What’s less predictable than the manufacturing scale-up is the incidence of disease, so when there’ll be an endpoint,” he added.

The widely followed Oxford vaccine trial is currently at an advanced stage, with studies being carried out in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. A collaboration has already been reached between Oxford, UK government and biopharma major AstraZeneca to produce the vaccine on a mass scale if the final results are also positive.

 

The Serum Institute of India is one of the global partners for its production, a deal that would involve the Pune-based facility producing 400 million doses that will be distributed across dozens of lower and middle-income countries such as India.

The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO) hailed the findings about the vaccine as “good news”. “We now need to move into larger-scale real-world trials,” Dr Michael Ryan told reporters at a news conference in Geneva, while warning: “there’s a long way to go”. “But it is good to see more data and more products moving into this very important phase of vaccine discovery.”

“There is still much work to be done before we can confirm if our vaccine will help manage the Covid-19 pandemic,” vaccine developer Sarah Gilbert said, according to Reuters. “We still do not know how strong an immune response we need to provoke to effectively protect against Sars-CoV-2 infection,” she said, adding researchers needed to learn more about Covid-19 and continue late stage trials which have already commenced.

More than 165 possible vaccines are in various stages of development with US drugmaker Pfizer and China’s CanSino Biologics also reporting positive responses for their candidates on Monday. Last week, another US company – Moderna – had its successful first phase trials reported in the journal NEJM.

To date, Covid-19 has killed about 610,000 people worldwide and infected over 14 million in 196 countries since the outbreak first emerged in China late last year.

Also read | Initial human trial of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine brings hope, found safe: All you need to know

Explaining how the Oxford vaccine works, study lead author Andrew Pollard said: “It uses a common cold virus (adenovirus) that infects chimpanzees, which has been weakened so that it can’t cause any disease in humans, and is genetically modified to code for the spike protein of the human Sars-CoV-2 virus.”

“This means that when the adenovirus enters vaccinated people’s cells it also delivers the spike protein genetic code. This causes these people’s cells to produce the spike protein, and helps teach the immune system to recognise the Sars-CoV-2 virus,” he added.

The immune system, Pollard explained, has two ways of finding and attacking pathogens: antibody and T cell responses. “This vaccine is intended to induce both, so it can attack the virus when it’s circulating in the body, as well as attacking infected cells. We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period,” he said.

According to The Lancet, an ideal vaccine should be effective after one or two shots, work in target populations including older adults and those with other health conditions, confer protection for a minimum of six months, and reduce onward transmission of the virus to contacts.

The Lancet said the current trial is too preliminary to confirm whether the new vaccine meets these requirements, but Phase 2 (underway in the UK only) and phase 3 trials to confirm whether it effectively protects against Sars-CoV-2 infection are happening in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

“This is very positive news. A huge well done to our brilliant, world-leading scientists & researchers at the University of Oxford. There are no guarantees, we’re not there yet & further trials will be necessary – but this is an important step in the right direction,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“We are encouraged by the Phase I/II interim data showing AZD1222 was capable of generating a rapid antibody and T-cell response against Sars-CoV-2. While there is more work to be done, today’s data increases our confidence that the vaccine will work and allows us to continue our plans to manufacture the vaccine at scale for broad and equitable access around the world,” said AstraZeneca’s Mene Pangalos.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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