The very first healthy volunteer has received Imperial College’s COVID-19 vaccine as its clinical trials begin in London.
The vaccine itself is first of its kind, made of self-replicating genetic code (saRNA) of the novel coronavirus. Vaccines usually contain weakened or inactivated parts of disease-causing pathogens, but this time viral RNA will be used.
The RNA is based on the genetic sequence of the coronavirus spike protein that helps it invade and destroy human cells. The body’s own cells will produce antibodies against it after coming in contact with the virus.
Human cells are made of DNA which controls their life cycle. The advantage of using RNA is that the cell can produce the virus without destroying its own genetic code (DNA).
“We have reached a significant milestone in this ground-breaking study with the first dose of a self-amplifying RNA vaccine delivered safely,” said Chief Investigator Dr Katrina Pollock, from Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease.
The volunteer, who was given a small dose of the vaccine, is doing well and being monitored by the varsity’s clinical team. Before administering the vaccine to anyone, the researchers said they conducted vigorous pre-clinical tests to check its safety.
The first volunteer will receive a booster shot within four weeks. Fourteen other healthy volunteers will receive the vaccine during this period.
“We now eagerly await rapid recruitment to the trial so that we can assess both the safety of the vaccine and its ability to produce neutralising antibodies which would indicate an effective response against COVID-19,” said lead researcher Professor Robin Shattock.
“From a scientific perspective, new technologies mean we have been able to get moving on a potential vaccine with unprecedented speed. We’ve been able to produce a vaccine from scratch and take it to human trials in just a few months – from code to candidate – which has never been done before with this type of vaccine,” Professor Shattock said.
“If our approach works and the vaccine provides effective protection against disease, it could revolutionise how we respond to disease outbreaks in future.”
Following the initial testing phase, 300 volunteers are expected to get the vaccine. Phase three trials will begin after reviewing these two stages and 6,000 volunteers will receive the vaccine.
The Imperial College has said it hopes to roll out the vaccines for UK and the world by spring 2021.