Imperial COVID-19 vaccine trial starts in Southampton

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Researchers from University Hospital Southampton (UHS) and the University of Southampton are now working with Imperial College London on a COVID-19 vaccine trial after the programme was expanded to additional sites throughout England.

The ground-breaking vaccine, which has received more than £40m in Government funding in addition to £5m in philanthropic donations, will be trialled in six additional centres, including Southampton.  

Preclinical studies have shown that the vaccine produced highly-specific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in mice, which were able to neutralise the virus. 

The trial in Southampton

The vaccine will be trialled in more than 200 people across four locations in London, as well as in Surrey and Southampton. The participants at these trial sites will be aged 18-75, and receive two immunisations, four weeks apart. 

“We’re pleased that Southampton is now playing an active role in the development and testing of the Imperial vaccine,” said Professor Saul Faust, Professor of Paediatric Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Southampton and Director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility at UHS.

“Vaccines are the most effective way of controlling outbreaks of the coronavirus and the global efforts currently underway to ensure that these vaccines are safe and effective are vital steps towards delivering a suitable vaccine in the months ahead.”

Professor Faust is also leading Southampton’s efforts in the Oxford Vaccine trial, which is now in the second phase of testing ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a vaccine made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans. This has been combined with genes that make proteins from the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) called spike glycoprotein which play an essential role in the infection pathway of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The Imperial vaccine

The Imperial vaccine is based on a new approach that uses synthetic strands of genetic code (called RNA), based on the virus’s genetic material, which has so far been trialled on 92 volunteers. Once injected into muscle, the RNA self amplifies – generating copies of itself – and instructs the body’s own cells to make copies of a spiky protein found on the outside of the virus. This should train the immune system to respond to the coronavirus so the body can easily recognise it and defend itself against COVID-19 in future.  

If the trials succeed, the Imperial vaccine may be uniquely able to deliver effective doses from relatively low volumes of the vaccine and lends itself to rapid scale-up in manufacturing at a relatively low cost.  

All participants on the trial are being closely monitored by clinical teams. In addition to recording any potential adverse reactions to the vaccine, the team will analyse participants’ blood for the presence of neutralising antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Dr Katrina Pollock, clinical lead on the Imperial COVAC1 study, said: “The trial is progressing well, and the additional sites will allow us to further evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of this vaccine, providing key clinical data. We look forward to the expansion of the trial with our partners at additional sites.”  

Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading the development of Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine, said: “The early results from pre-clinical data have been promising, and the expansion of our trial to additional centres will provide further data on the safety of the vaccine, and the immune response.”  


Posted on Wednesday 19 August 2020