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OAHP supporting the research effort

The NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have awarded £10.5 million of funding to six new research projects on developing and testing vaccines and therapies for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). One of the projects will investigate potential vaccines and could begin as early as June. Another of the funded projects will develop manufacturing processes to produce a vaccine at a million-dose scale. This will mean, if the clinical trials are a success, a vaccine would be available to high-risk groups as early as possible. A third project will trial if existing drugs can be immediately re-purposed to help people hospitalised with COVID-19, and another project will collect data on COVID-19 patients to improve our knowledge of the disease and best treatment strategies.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “In the midst of a global health emergency the UK is using all its extensive research expertise to quickly develop new vaccines to target this international threat. “This investment will speed up globally recognised vaccine development capabilities and help us find a new defence against this disease.”

The investment by UKRI and NIHR, part of the first round of a £20 million rapid funding call for COVID-19 research, supports the government’s four phase approach to contain, delay, mitigate, and research the coronavirus and disease it causes. It builds on the UK’s world class expertise and capability in global health and infectious disease that has already shaped our understanding of the outbreak and is informing measures to tackle it.

The OAHP is involved in three of these trials

Preclinical and clinical testing of a new vaccine for COVID-19

Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford – £2.2m

The team will undertake preclinical and clinical testing of a new vaccine for COVID-19, which they have been developing since the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus was released. The vaccine is made from a harmless virus, an adenovirus that has been altered to produce the surface spike protein of COVID-19. The vaccine acts by priming the immune system to recognise and attack the coronavirus. The vaccine uses the same technique as a vaccine the team previously developed for the closely related MERS coronavirus, which showed promise in animal and early-stage human testing.

The new funding will support preclinical testing of the new vaccine, vaccine manufacturing and then clinical trials in people. The first stage of clinical trials will be in adults aged 18-50, later expanding to adults over 50 years and school age children. If the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective in these earlier trials, vaccine manufacturing will be scaled up for larger studies.

Re-purposing existing and new drugs for COVID-19 patients

Professor Peter Horby, University of Oxford – £2.1m

The Randomised Evaluation of COVID Therapy (RECOVERY) trial will test if existing or new drugs can help patients hospitalised with confirmed COVID-19. The first two therapies to be tested will be iopinavir-ritonavir (an HIV drug) and low-dose corticosteroids, which will be evaluated to see if they are safe and effective when added to the usual standard of care. The trial will have an ‘adaptive’ design, meaning it can test new therapies as they become available. The team’s aim is to have data available to inform patient treatment within three months.

Developing processes to manufacture vaccines at scale

Dr Sandy Douglas, University of Oxford – £0.4m

The team is aiming to develop manufacturing processes for producing adenovirus vaccines at a million-dose scale, so that – if clinical trials are successful – a vaccine could be made available to high-risk groups as quickly as possible. They are working with Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team, who are developing promising novel coronavirus vaccines by modifying harmless adenoviruses.