An Oxford University vaccine trial has only a 50 per cent chance of success because coronavirus is fading so rapidly in Britain, a co-leader of the project has warned.
The warning comes as new data reveals that there are now 224 vaccines in development around the world – almost double the total of just a month ago.
Professor Adrian Hill said an upcoming Oxford vaccine trial, involving 10,000 volunteers, threatened to return “no result” due to low transmission of COVID-19 in the community.
The eyes of the nation – and perhaps the world – are firmly upon Hill and his team at Oxford University.
This week, the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced a $US1.2 billion deal with the US to produce 400 million doses of an unproven coronavirus vaccine first produced in Hill’s small Oxford lab. The British government has agreed to pay for up to 100 million doses, announcing that 30 million may be ready for British citizens as soon as September.
The stakes could hardly be higher. If proven effective, the ZD1222 vaccine would allow people to leave their homes, go back to work, and finally allow the shattered global economy to rebuild. But Hill, director of the university’s Jenner Institute, revealed that his team now faces a major problem, throwing the September deadline into doubt.
“It is a race, yes. But it’s not a race against the other guys.
“It’s a race against the virus disappearing, and against time,” he said.
“At the moment, there’s a 50 per cent chance that we get no result at all.”
Hill said that of 10,000 people recruited to test the vaccine in the coming weeks – some of whom will be given a placebo – he expected fewer than 50 people to catch the virus. If fewer than 20 test positive, then the results may be useless, he warned.Loading
“We’re in the bizarre position of wanting COVID to stay, at least for a little while. But cases are declining.”
Hill added that Oxford University had secured “hardwired” assurances that the vaccine would not be unfairly prioritised toward richer countries, after the US announced a $US1.2 billion deal to buy 400 million doses.
“The reputational damage to the university would be enormous if we provided the vaccine only for the UK and US, and not for the rest of those countries of the world where it’s very likely that the pandemic will still be raging,” he said. “The vaccine should be supplied to the countries of greatest need at the moment that it works, rather than the countries who got there first. And that will happen.”
Across the globe, North America has the largest number of vaccine projects under way – accounting for 49 per cent of the world’s total – while China is furthest along the development track, according to data, collated by Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations .
Of the 10 vaccine candidates that have progressed to human trials globally, six are Chinese and it is the only country to have a candidate now firmly into phase two trials. That vaccine is being pioneered by the Chinese biotech firm CanSino Biologics and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology. It utilises a “non replicating viral-vector” design similar to the one being developed by Oxford University in England. The results of its phase one trial were reported in The Lancet on Friday.
High doses of the vaccine prompted a stronger immune response but it was also associated with greater side effects. “Severe fever, fatigue, dyspnoea, muscle pain, and joint pain were reported in some of the recipients in the high dose group,” said the study.
Other leading candidates include those being developed by Sinovac Biotech in China, Pfizer and BioNTech in Germany, Moderna Pharmaceuticals in the US and Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the UK.
Dr Melanie Saville, Cepi’s director of vaccine development, said she was encouraged by the large number of vaccine candidates being developed, adding that ultimately there would need to be more than one vaccine to cover the world’s population.
She characterised the global race to find a vaccine as a “competition with the virus” and said that there continued to be good cooperation between the scientists and teams involved.
“We are seeing a lot of sharing. Companies are publishing data as it becomes available,” she said.
At the World Health Assembly earlier this week, most countries, including China, backed a resolution calling for the equitable distribution of any successful vaccines globally.
But the US disassociated itself from the move. It objected to references in the so-called “TRIPS” agreement, which allow for the compulsory sharing of intellectual property relating to medicines and vaccines during a health emergency. The US mission to the UN in Geneva said such language would stifle innovation and “send the wrong message to innovators who will be essential to the solutions the whole world needs”. This has fuelled concerns over “vaccine nationalism” – where countries refuse to share innovations globally.
“Deals are already being made – for example by the US government – so their population gets priority access,” said Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University.
“All you need is one government not to co-operate… to misbehave and not play by the rules of the game, and it becomes very hard for everyone else too.”
Source : SMH News