Imperial College London begins trials of new Covid-19 vaccine

Human trials are set to begin this week for a new Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by researchers at Imperial College London.

The trial has been made possible by more than 41 million pound funding from the UK government and a further 5 million pounds in philanthropic donations.

As part of the trial, 300 healthy participants will receive two doses of the vaccine over the coming weeks, Imperial College London said late on Monday, adding that the vaccine had undergone rigorous pre-clinical safety tests and in animal studies, it had been shown to be safe and produced encouraging signs of an effective immune response.

If the vaccine is found to be safe and shows a promising immune response in humans, then larger Phase-3 trials would be planned to begin later in the year with around 6,000 healthy volunteers to test its effectiveness.

“We’ve been able to produce a vaccine from scratch and take it to human trials in just a few months — from code to candidate — which has never been done before with this type of vaccine,” Professor Robin Shattock from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial and who is leading the work, said in a statement.

“If our approach works and the vaccine provides effective protection against disease, it could revolutionise how we respond to disease outbreaks in future.”

Many traditional vaccines are based on a weakened or modified form of virus, or parts of it, but the Imperial vaccine is based on a new approach.

It uses synthetic strands of genetic code (called RNA), based on the virus’s genetic material.

Once injected into muscle, the RNA self amplifies — generating copies of itself — and instructs the body’s own cells to make copies of a spiky protein found on the outside of the virus.

This should train the immune system to respond to the coronavirus so the body can easily recognise it and defend itself against Covid-19 in future.

As of June 9, about 126 Covid-19 vaccine candidates were in pre-clinical evaluation stage and 10 in clinical evaluation stage, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).