Oxford's Coronavirus Vaccine Triggered 'Strong Immune Responses' In Early Trials

With dozens of biotech firms and research labs around the globe racing to come up with a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that has paralyzed the world since March, a couple of front runners have emerged. Moderna announced last week that peer review had confirmed the early stages of its trials had been successful at triggering an immune response, and had done so safely and with no seriously adverse side effects.

Now, less than a week later, Oxford University has announced that its early trials were also successful - with the addition that at least a million doses could be ready to go by September.

Researchers at the University Of Oxford have reason to be feeling upbeat following the results of their early COVID-19 vaccine trials.

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A single dose of the vaccine appears to provide "strong immune responses" with "no early safety concerns," according to a press release.

"We’re really pleased that it seems behaving just as we thought it would do," Professor Sarah Gilber of Oxford's Jenner Institute told The Guardian. "We have quite a lot of experience of using this technology to make other vaccines, so we knew what we expected to see, and that’s what we have seen."

There are a couple of important differences between the Oxford vaccine and Moderna's.

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For one, Moderna's Phase 1 trial involved just 45 volunteers, whereas Oxford's had a much larger sample size, with more than 1,000 people participating.

Oxford's vaccine also only required a single dose to produce an immune response, while Moderna's involves two doses administered 28 days apart. However, Oxford's also saw a stronger response when a second booster dose was administered.

Just as important as the immune response is the safety of the vaccine.

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And, like Moderna's study, Oxford's saw few side effects, none of them serious. The most common side effects reported were headaches and fatigue, with some others reporting pain at the injection site, muscle aches, chills, malaise, and high temperatures, CNN reported.

The volunteers in the study have been followed for eight weeks so far to continue to monitor their immune responses.

So, there's cause for a bit of celebration as the research has borne fruit so far.

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"We are seeing exactly the sort of immune responses we were hoping for, including neutralising antibodies and T-cell responses, which, at least from what we’ve seen in the animal studies seem to be those that are associated with protection," lead author Professor Andrew Pollard told The Guardian.

So it's full steam ahead for the researchers from here.

Working in collaboration with biopharmaceutical research firm AstraZeneca, Oxford's researchers are going full bore to get their studies complete and start producing their vaccine. Phase III trials have already begun, involving up to 30,000 volunteers in the U.S. as well as a pediatric study and trials in low-to-middle income areas in Brazil and South Africa.

However, there are still several important questions that need to be answered.

As Professor Pollard pointed out, one of the biggest is the dosage.

"We just don’t know what level is needed if you meet this virus in the wild, to provide protection, so we need to do the clinical trials and to work that out," he told The Guardian.

"We don’t know what high is. We’ve got immune responses that we can measure we can see the virus being neutralised when the antibodies are tested in the laboratory, but we don’t know how much is needed."

It also remains to be seen how long the vaccine will provide protection for, especially in older adults.

Vaccines tend to be less effective in older adults, but while the vaccine might not stave off the virus completely, it could stimulate enough of a response to greatly reduce the seriousness of the infection.

However, as Pollard noted, the vaccine stimulated a two-pronged response from both the antibodies and the T-cells in the immune system.

"We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period," he told The Guardian. "However, we need more research before we can confirm the vaccine effectively protects against Sars-CoV-2 infection, and for how long any protection lasts."

So the researchers are working tirelessly to figure it all out.

And AstraZeneca is standing by to help manufacture as much of the vaccine as needed. As Oxford's Adrian Hill told Reuters, "There might be a million doses manufactured by September: that now seems like a remarkable underestimate, given the scale of what’s going on.

"Certainly there’ll be a million doses around in September. What’s less predictable than the manufacturing scale-up is the incidence of disease, so when there’ll be an endpoint."

While those doses will be needed for the large-scale trials, the public could see doses of the vaccine by the end of the year.

h/t: The Guardian, Reuters, University of Oxford

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