Game on if...’: Experts put stake on Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine trial results by May end

A closed tourist souvenir shop on Oxford Street in London, as the country is in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Wednesday, April 15, 2020.
A closed tourist souvenir shop on Oxford Street in London, as the country is in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (AP)

It will be ‘game on’ if ongoing human trials for a coronavirus vaccine in the University of Oxford show strong immune response by the middle or end of May, a senior academic on the UK government’s newly-formed taskforce on vaccines said on Saturday.
Several vaccine-related projects are in progress in the UK and elsewhere. Sarah Gilbert of Oxford believes that a vaccine could be available by September. Business secretary Alok Sharma announced the taskforce and multi-million pound funding for projects on Friday.
Academic John Bell, who is a member of the taskforce, said the UK currently does not have the capacity to produce the amount of vaccine it needs to tackle coronavirus, but “is in a really good place” for vaccine development.

On the ongoing trial in Oxford and whether the vaccine could be produced in the near future, he said the real question was whether it would be effective: “We won’t get a signal for that until May. The crucial thing is you have to do a proper trial because safety is really important for these things.”
“But if we can see evidence of a strong immune response by the middle or the end of May, then I think the game is on. And they may well get across the finish line by mid-August,” he told BBC.
Bell and other experts such as Gilbert believe that the next challenge is to set in motion production processes so that it can be made widely soon.

Bell added: “One of the reasons that we were rushing is to try and catch this wave of the disease. Because when the disease goes away there will be very, very few incident cases until we get a second wave”.
“The team developing the vaccine are very keen to get it out in its trial now so that we can catch the remainder of this wave”.
Announcing the taskforce at the Downing Street briefing, Sharma said: “UK scientists are working as fast as they can to find a vaccine that fights coronavirus, saving and protecting people’s lives. We stand firmly behind them in their efforts”.
“The Vaccine Taskforce is key to coordinating efforts to rapidly accelerate the development and manufacture of a potential new vaccine, so we can make sure it is widely available to patients as soon as possible”.
One new project led by the University of Oxford will trial an anti-malarial drug believed to have anti-inflammatory properties to determine whether it could diminish the effects of Covid-19 on people in high risk groups.
Other projects include Imperial College London testing a vaccine against coronavirus that aims for the body to produce more protective antibodies; and Public Health England developing a new antibody that could offer protection against infection and disease progression of coronavirus.
As of Friday, the UK had 14,576 deaths and 108,692 cases, as concerns mounted over lack of personal protection equipment for medical staff. Officials believe social distancing and other curbs are leading to a ‘gradual decline’ in the number of cases.

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