The findings, led by the National Institutes of Health, have not been peer-reviewed or published, but Professor Robin Shattock, Professor of Mucosal Infection and Immunity, Imperial College London, called the early results “encouraging”.
He added: “This is a promising start, but efficacy data will be key followed by an ability to scale in a manner that provides global access should this vaccine be successful.”
A second phase of trials with around 600 people will begin soon, while a third involving thousands of people will start in July. Even if the coming trials are successful Moderna’s vaccine would not be available until between January and June 2021.
US president, Donald Trump, has said the US would start mass production of any vaccines developed before they are fully approved so that they can be quickly distributed once rubber-stamped.
Alongside vaccine development, doctors are trialling existing drugs for viruses such as Ebola, malaria and HIV. Early results seem promising but, until full clinical trials have been concluded, doctors cannot be certain that the drugs are effective.
It has also been reported that GSK and Sanofi have teamed up to develop a coronavirus treatment, and plan to have a vaccine ready for testing by the end of 2020.
UK vaccine taskforce
On April 17, the government launched a taskforce designed to “rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine”, as well as scale up manufacturing so it can be quickly produced and delivered in mass quantities.
It is led by Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Jonathan van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, and members will include AstraZeneca and the Wellcome Trust.
The government has initially earmarked £14 million to plough into 21 coronavirus research projects – such as the work by the scientists at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. On April 21, an announcement of a further £44.5 million for the Oxford and Imperial trials increased this funding further still.
A few weeks later the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma announced a further £84 million in new funding “to help accelerate their work”.
He said: “This new money will help mass-produce the Oxford vaccine so that if current trials are successful we have dosages to start vaccinating the UK population straight away.”
To help the UK mass produce a vaccine, Mr Sharma has announced the UK’s first vaccines manufacturing innovation centre is expected to open in summer 2021, a year ahead of schedule.
He said: “To further support our domestic manufacturing capabilities last month, I announced the Government would accelerate building the UK’s first vaccines manufacturing innovation centre, which is based at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
“And today I can announce we will invest up to a further £93 million in the centre ensuring that it opens in summer 2021, a full 12 months ahead of schedule. “The centre, which is already under construction, will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire UK population in as little as six months.”