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Coronavirus vaccine hope as potentially ‘game-changing‘ government-backed candidate enters human trials

The Government has already pumped £41million of public money into the development of the Imperial vaccine. (PA)

3 min read

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has heaped praise on the “ingenuity and tenacity of Britain’s researchers” as he confirmed that human trials have started on one of two government-backed coronavirus vaccine candidates.

The Cabinet minister said the potential Covid-19 vaccine, developed by researchers at Imperial College London, showed that the UK was among the “front-runners” in the race to combat the virus.

The Government has already pumped £41million of public money into the development of the Imperial vaccine, with a further £5m in philanthropic donations also boosting that work.

Ministers have also pledged millions of pounds to a separate candidate being developed by Oxford University, with Mr Sharma claiming in May that around half of the UK population could have access to that vaccine by September if trials are successful. 

The Imperial vaccine will be trialled in 300 healthy volunteers aged between 18 to 70, the Department for Business said, with “rigorous pre-clinical safety tests” showing “encouraging signs of an effective immune response in animal studies”.

Mr Sharma said: “I am incredibly proud the vaccine being developed by Imperial College London is one of the world’s front-runners. We are fully backing its research with over £40 million government funding, as part of our wider vaccines development programme.
“The fast progress of Imperial’s vaccine is testament to the ingenuity and tenacity of Britain’s researchers. If these trials are successful a vaccine will not only help us tackle coronavirus but also emerging diseases now and into the future.”

The Government says that if the vaccine shows a “promising” immune response, a third phase of trials will kick off “later in the year” for some 6,000 healthy volunteers.

“Ultimately, the researchers hope that if clinical trials are successful, the vaccine could provide protection against COVID-19 both in the UK and around the world,” the department said.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading the work as part of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and had a huge impact on daily life. In the long-term, a viable vaccine could be vital for protecting the most vulnerable, enabling restrictions to be eased and helping people to get back to normal life.”

A vaccine for Covid-19 is seen as the only assured way to return life to normal amid lockdowns around the world.

The current official UK estimate for when a coronavirus vaccine will be ready for widespread use stands at 12 to 18 months.
Kate Bingham, chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, said she was “delighted” that the Imperial Team “have so quickly advanced to the clinical trial stage”.

And she added: “Their self-amplifying technology has the potential to be a real game-changer, not only for a COVID-19 vaccine but for the development of future vaccines. It’s a great example of the world-leading life sciences sector in this country.”

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