Oxford University researchers say they’ve developed a COVID-19 vaccine that prevented the virus from spreading in a small study involving rhesus macaque monkeys. If all goes well it’s possible a coronavirus vaccine could be widely available by September.
In a preprinted paper published on May 13, scientists from Oxford University and the National Institutes of Health wrote that they had success with a vaccine referred to as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 after administering a single dose of the vaccine to a group of six monkeys.
Specifically, they found that it prevented lung damage to the monkeys who were exposed to high levels of COVID-19 after being given a dose of vaccine. Previously they tried the same experiment but gave the monkeys a triple dose of the vaccine, according to the preprinted paper. It worked, but the new findings show that even a single dose was effective.
A preprinted paper is a research paper that still needs peer review. Due to the amount of time peer review takes — weeks to months — preprints have become something to consider during the coronavirus pandemic, as time is not a luxury. However, these papers are not fully vetted, which is important to note.
While more study is needed, Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the university told CBS News in April, when they were already working on the vaccine, that she has a “high degree of confidence about this vaccine because it’s a technology I’ve used before.”
The Oxford research lab has already developed vaccines using viruses that are related to COVID-19 so they were able to piggyback off of some of that data.
If All Goes Well the Vaccine Could be Available in Mass Quantities by September
Human trials are the next hurdle, and those have already started. According to NBC News, researchers at Oxford are hopeful that data will show the vaccine is effective in humans by June and could be mass-produced and rolled out widely to the public by September.
There are dozens of companies and research universities working on vaccines and treatments for novel coronavirus, but according to Statnews, who keeps a running list of what each agency is doing and what phase they’re in, researchers at Oxford University “are working at uncommon speed, starting a placebo-controlled clinical trial while finalizing the manufacturing of their potential vaccine.”
Oxford University is already partnered with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, who would be responsible for the development, manufacturing and worldwide distribution of the vaccine. The goal of the partnership is to get the vaccine out and widely available as fast as possible — if it works, that is.
In a press release from AstraZeneca, CEO Pascal Soriot said:
As COVID-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent. This collaboration brings together the University of Oxford’s world-class expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalisation of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.
So Far the Vaccine is Well-Tolerated by Humans in the Trial
According to AstraZeneca, by April 30 the vaccine had already been tested on 320 people and had “shown to be safe and well-tolerated, although they can cause temporary side effects such as a temperature, flu-like symptoms, headache or sore arm.”
By May 13, Oxford researchers wrote in their paper that over 1,000 volunteers had participated in the clinical trials calling it “an important step toward the development of a safe and efficacious SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.”
Healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55 are being used in the trial. One volunteer who is also an Oxford scientist, Elisa Granato told CBS News, “It feels like finally, I am able to do something…This was a way for me to contribute to the cause.”
An area that may need more study involves the findings that the monkeys were still shedding the virus from their noses after they were vaccinated and were showing immunity to lung damage from the virus. The scientists point out, however, that the monkeys were exposed to extremely high levels of the virus “which likely does not reflect a realistic human exposure.”
Rhesus macaque monkeys share about 93 percent of the same DNA as humans, according to the National Institutes of Health, making them a relatively reliable research animal where human disease is concerned.