This is when there could be a coronavirus vaccine - and if it will be ready in the UK by June

Friday, 1st May 2020, 10:19 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 10:15 am
Scientists at the University of Oxford hope to have a vaccine available for use by public by September (Photo: Shutterstock)
Scientists at the University of Oxford hope to have a vaccine available for use by public by September (Photo: Shutterstock)

As the UK extends its lockdown, researchers are working around the clock in an effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

More than £6.5 billion has been pledged to help develop a vaccine and fund research into treatment, but health experts have warned that a coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be available before the end of the year.

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But while a drug that can kill Covid-19 has yet to be found, there are more than 20 vaccines currently in development.

Here’s what you should know.

What vaccines are in development?

Several vaccines are currently in the process of being developed, with some drugs already being tested in humans, while others are moving closer to starting clinical trials.

Scientists in Australia have begun injecting ferrets with two potential vaccines, becoming the first comprehensive pre-clinical trial to move to the animal testing stage.

Researchers say they hope to move to the human testing stage by the end of April.

Elsewhere, the first human trial for a vaccine has started in Seattle in the US, with researchers opting to sidestep the usual process of conducting animal research first to test the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GSK have teamed up in the hope of making a vaccine available by the middle of next year, and are hoping to enter a candidate in clinical trials in the second half of this year.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine are also working on a fingertip-sized patch which could be a potential vaccine for coronavirus.

In China, CanSino Biologics has begun the second phase of testing its vaccine candidate, while a potential vaccine made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Moderna Inc in America is moving along.

Tests such as these are being conducted at a much faster pace than usual, with some researchers taking a new approach to development.

However, even if tests prove successful, it is not expected a vaccine will be able to be mass produced until the second half of 2021.

But more than £6.5 billion has now been pledged to fund the development of a vaccine, with more than 30 countries and donors, including research institues, making donations in an online summit hosted by the EU on Monday (4 May).

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the money would help “kickstart unprecedented global co-operation between scientists and regulators, industry and governments, international organisations, foundations and healthcare professionals"

The European Commission pledged $1 billion to fund research, with Norway matching its contribution, and France, Saudi Arabia and Germany all pledged €500 million.

Japan pledged more than $800 million and the UK contributed £388 million for vaccine research, testing and treatment. The US and Russia did not take part.

What progress has been made in the UK?

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) has identified 115 Covid-19 vaccines at varying stages of development, with five of these now moved to clinical development.

A leading scientist who is working with a team at the University of Oxford said it will become clear if their potential coronavirus vaccine works by June, and promised the NHS would have access to it first.

The university has partnered with pharmaceutical giant AstraZenenca for the development, manufacture and large-scale distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which started human trials at the university’s Jenner Insititute last week.

Hundreds of people volunteered to be part of the study, which receieved £20 million in government funding, and it is hoped some results from the trials will be available by mid-June.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are also working on a potential vaccine, while doctors are also testing anti-viral drugs to see if they work against coronavirus.

Such trials are taking place in England and Scotland on a small number of patients with an anti-viral drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed as an Ebola drug.

However, the drug also appears to be effective against a variety of viruses.

Other studies on anti-malarial drugs called chloroquine are also taking place, as laboratory tests have shown it can kill the virus, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is not definitive evidence of its effectiveness.

When could a UK coronavirus vaccine be ready?

The team at Oxford University are hoping to have at least a million doses of the vaccine available by autumn, but need to ensure it can be manufactured at the required pace

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the university, said the team probably has the "most ambitious scale up" programme of all the groups working on a vaccine.

He said: "We're now moving to the point where instead of doing maybe a three litre manufacturing run, we're up to 50 litres will go to 100, 200, maybe even 2000.

"And we're talking to manufacturers who can provide that sort of manufacturing service.

"The aim is to have at least a million doses by around about September, once you know the vaccine efficacy results.

"And then move even faster from there because it's pretty clear the world is going to need hundreds of millions of doses, ideally by the end of this year to end this pandemic, to let us out of lockdown.

"A vaccine is the exit strategy for this pandemic and then we're very likely to need a vaccine in future years because it's unlikely we'll be able to eradicate this virus."

Who would get the vaccine first?

The vaccine would be in limited supply once it is first developed, meaning it will likely be given to priority groups first.

This would most likely include healthcare workers and older people.

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