In the race for a vaccine against the coronavirus, Oxford University is sprinting the fastest.
Scientists at the university’s Jenner Institute had a head start on a vaccine, having proved in previous trials that similar inoculations — including one last year against an earlier coronavirus — were harmless to humans. This enables them to leap ahead and schedule tests of their new vaccine in 6,000 people by the end of next month, hoping to show that it is both safe and that it works.
If effective, an emergency approval from regulators could mean that a few million doses may be available by September.
Now there is promising news that it may be effective.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana last month inoculated six rhesus macaque monkeys with single doses of the Oxford vaccine. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the virus that is causing the pandemic — exposure that had consistently sickened other monkeys in the lab. But more than 28 days later all six were healthy, said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.
Scientists are still analyzing the result and expect to share with other scientists next week and submit to a peer review journal.
Immunity in monkeys is no guarantee that a vaccine will provide the same degree of protection for humans. A Chinese company that recently started a clinical trial with 144 participants, SinoVac, has also said that its vaccine was effective in rhesus macaques. But with dozens of efforts now underway to find a vaccine, the monkey results are the latest indication that Oxford’s accelerated venture is emerging as a bellwether.
Emilio Emini, a director of the vaccine program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says that it is a “very, very fast clinical program,” but that several vaccines will be needed.
Some may work more effectively than others in groups like children or older people, or at different costs and dosages. Having more than one variety of vaccine in production will also help avoid bottlenecks in manufacturing according to Emini.
This story was in the New York Times.