Since beginning work on a vaccine against the novel coronavirus in early January, Prof. Sarah Gilbert’s team have begun clinical trials on humans this week. They plan to finish clinical trials and begin manufacturing by autumn.

As the first patients, Dr. Elisa Granato and Edward O’Neill were vaccinated with Oxford’s ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Results from the animal trials on rhesus macaque monkeys were revealed to have been successful by the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory. 

Six monkeys were vaccinated and exposed to high quantities of the virus. Whereas non-vaccinated monkeys became infected, those vaccinated proved to be immune. The rhesus macaque monkeys are the animals most similar to humans. 

This follows as Prof. Sarah Gilbert and her team announced they were “80% confident” the vaccine would be effective and therefore and therefore likely to head into mass manufacturing as early as September, contrasting the early consensus among experts that the vaccine could take between 12 to 18 months to develop.

Sarah Gilbert’s co-researcher, Prof. Adrian Hill emphasised that “the aim is to have at least a million doses by around about September”, though he raised concerns about difficulties in the mass production of the vaccine, accounting for the over 3 million cases recorded worldwide. He stated: “manufacturing is one of the biggest challenges if this vaccine works.” 

This week, The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer producing 1.5 billion doses a year, has partnered with Oxford to start production of their vaccine before the completion of clinical trials.  

Adrian Hill stated: “We have started at risk manufacturing of this vaccine not just on a smallish scale … but with a network of manufacturers in as many as seven different places around the world.”

Oxford research team have raised concerns about difficulties the lockdown will place on the conducting of the clinical trials, as it limits the conditions the immunity is tested in. If the trials in the UK are successful, the team have suggested partnering with the Kenya Medical Research Institute to begin trials in Kenya as they are earlier in the curve of the pandemic. This has however been met by some opposition in Kenya. 

Professor Gilbert emphasises the need for international collaboration in vaccine research. She told The Lancet: “the WHO is in the process of creating a forum for everyone who is developing COVID-19 vaccines to come together and present their plans and initial findings.

“It is essential that we all measure immunological responses to the various vaccines in the same way, to ensure comparability and generalisability of our collective findings. Work is continuing at a very fast pace, and I am in no doubt that we will see an unprecedented spirit of collaboration and cooperation, convened by WHO, as we move towards a shared global goal of COVID-19 prevention through vaccination.”