Coronavirus: ‘Several’ vaccines could be ready by end of year

Multiple coronavirus vaccines could be ready for mass-use by the end of this year, according to a British pharmaceutical giant.

AstraZeneca said it was on track to produce millions of its experimental COVID-19 jab – called AZD1222 – by September.  

The jab, developed by scientists at Oxford University, has moved into larger human trials after showing promise in earlier studies. 

AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said he believed ‘several’ other vaccines would be ready in the autumn, too.

The Cambridge-based firm announced plans last week to scale up production of the vaccine to a billion doses by mid-2021.

GlaxoSmithKline, headquartered in Brentford, and US drugs giants Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer also unveiled plans today to produce a billion doses of their vaccines next year. 

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the chief executives from the big four pharma companies said human trials of their vaccines were going ‘so far, so good’. 

AstraZeneca's chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said he believes there will be 'several' Covid vaccines ready for mass-use this year

AstraZeneca's chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said he believes there will be 'several' Covid vaccines ready for mass-use this year

AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said he believes there will be ‘several’ Covid vaccines ready for mass-use this year

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the chief executives from the big four pharma companies leading the race for a coronavirus jab said human trials of their vaccines were going 'so far, so good'

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the chief executives from the big four pharma companies leading the race for a coronavirus jab said human trials of their vaccines were going 'so far, so good'

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the chief executives from the big four pharma companies leading the race for a coronavirus jab said human trials of their vaccines were going ‘so far, so good’

Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer of GSK

Emma Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer of GSK

Dr Albert Bourla, chairman at Pfizer

Dr Albert Bourla, chairman at Pfizer

Emma Walmsley, CEO of Brentford-based GlaxoSmithKline, and Dr Albert Bourla, chairman at Pfizer also unveiled plans today to produce a billion doses of their vaccines next year

Estimates suggests the world will need around 4.5billion vaccine doses to put an end to the pandemic. 

The virus is so hard to track and so easy to spread that experts believe it will continue to spread through the human population indefinitely if a vaccine cannot be found. 

WHAT IS THE OXFORD VACCINE AND WHO CAN GET ONE? 

What type of vaccine is it? 

The vaccine is called AZD1222 and is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.

The intellectual rights to its vaccine are owned by the University of Oxford and a spin-out company called Vaccitech. 

Clinical teams at the Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group began developing the vaccine in January.  

It’s a type of immunisation known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine. 

Researchers place genetic material from the coronavirus into another virus that’s been modified. They will then inject the virus into a human, hoping to produce an immune response against SARS-CoV-2. 

This virus, weakened by genetic engineering, is a type of virus called an adenovirus, the same as those which cause common colds, that has been taken from chimpanzees. 

If the vaccines can successfully mimic the spikes inside a person’s bloodstream, and stimulate the immune system to create special antibodies to attack it, this could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get infected with it in future.

It was developed so rapidly by Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology, and her team because they already had a base vaccine for similar coronaviruses. 

The team have gone through stages of vaccine development that usually take five years in just four months.  

However, Professor Gilbert said that none of the normal safety steps had been missed out.  

Will it be successful?

Professor Gilbert has been vocal about her confidence in the vaccine. 

She acknowledged nobody can be ‘completely certain’ that it is possible to find a vaccine for Covid-19, but the prospects are ‘very good’.

In an interview before trials began, Professor Gilbert told the paper she is ’80 per cent’ confident of its success, ‘based on other things that we have done with this type of vaccine’.

University of Oxford scientists are confident they can get the jab for the incurable virus rolled out for millions to use by autumn. 

But Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor to the Government, has said expectations for a vaccine need to be tempered. 

Writing in The Guardian ahead of the Oxford trials, Sir Patrick wrote: ‘All new vaccines that come into development are long shots; only some end up being successful, and the whole process requires experimentation. This will take time, and we should be clear it is not a certainty.’ 

What obstacles will the team face? 

Some obstacles are expected to emerge while searching for a vaccine. For example, if transmission levels of COVID-19 levels drop in the community, it could hamper the Oxford study. 

Professor Gilbert has said they may have to continue their trials in other countries where more of the virus is circulating in the community. 

In this case, it could be at least six months before researchers know if the vaccine works. If transmission remains high in the UK, the team could get data within a couple of months.  

Andrew Pollard, who is part of the Oxford team, said there may be hurdles when testing the vaccine on older people.

‘For most vaccines the immune system in older adults, particularly those over 70, doesn’t make such good responses,’ he said.

‘If we did see weaker responses in older adults we also have in our plan that we would look at giving additional doses in that age group to try and improve the immune response.’ 

Professor Gilbert had previously said her team needed help manufacturing the jabs, warning the UK did not have the facilities to do it alone, before a deal was struck with AstraZeneca.

How does it compare to other vaccines? 

According to the World Health Organisation, 118 COVID-19 vaccines are in development worldwide as of May 15. But the UK now joins only the United States and China in beginning human trials. Eight vaccine candidates are now in preclinical trials. 

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Mr Soriot told the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) today: ‘The hope of many people is that we will have a vaccine – hopefully several – before the end of this year.

‘Capacity will continue increasing next year, both in terms of manufacturing capacity but also additional vaccines coming.

‘We could answer before the end of the year. That’s what we are all aiming at and working hard to achieve.’  

Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, said: ‘I want to reinforce how important it is that we have ideally more than one vaccine….we need multiple billion doses as fast as we can collectively.

‘This is, in multiple ways, a collective rival against an unprecedented virus.’ 

The big four companies have agreed to initially sell their ‘not for profit’ vaccines to countries for the price it costs to make the jab.

But prices will soar when the World Health Organization (WHO) brings the global alert down from the level of pandemic.

The news that multiple vaccines could be ready by the autumn raises hopes of millions of people worldwide longing for an end to the pandemic.     

But a leading member of the Oxford University trial said the study has only a 50 per cent chance of being successfully completed.

Lower transmission of the coronavirus in the community means it will be harder for trial participants to catch the virus, and for scientists to see if the vaccine is protective.   

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group began development on a vaccine in January, using a virus taken from chimpanzees.

Following an initial phase of testing on 160 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55, the study is now set to progress to phases two and three.

It will involve increasing the testing to up to 10,260 people and expanding the age range of volunteers to include children and the elderly.

Professor Adrian Hill, director of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, said he expected fewer than 50 of those to catch the virus. The results could be deemed useless if fewer than 20 test positive.

‘We said earlier in the year that there was an 80 per cent chance of developing an effective vaccine by September,’ he told The Sunday Telegraph.

‘But at the moment, there’s a 50 per cent chance that we get no result at all.

‘We’re in the bizarre position of wanting Covid to stay, at least for a little while. But cases are declining.’

If SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, is not spreading in the community, volunteers will find it difficult to catch, meaning scientists can’t prove whether the vaccine actually makes any difference.

AstraZeneca has announced a deal with the US to produce 400million doses of the vaccine – which is still not proven – and 100million for the UK. 

Britain has agreed to pay for up the doses ‘as early as possible’ – with ministers hoping for a third of those to be ready for September if proven effective. 

The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.

The intellectual rights to its vaccine are owned by the University of Oxford and a spin-out company called Vaccitech. 

Clinical teams at the Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group began developing the vaccine in January.  

It’s a type of immunisation known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine. 

Researchers place genetic material from the coronavirus into another virus that’s been modified. They will then inject the virus into a human, hoping to produce an immune response against SARS-CoV-2. 

This virus, weakened by genetic engineering, is a type of virus called an adenovirus, the same as those which cause common colds, that has been taken from chimpanzees. 

If the vaccines can successfully mimic the spikes inside a person’s bloodstream, and stimulate the immune system to create special antibodies to attack it, this could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get infected with it in future.

It was developed so rapidly by Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology, and her team because they already had a base vaccine for similar coronaviruses. 

The team have gone through stages of vaccine development that usually take five years in just four months.  

However, Professor Gilbert said that none of the normal safety steps had been missed out.  

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