HOPES of a successful coronavirus vaccine have been boosted after volunteers showed signs of immunity in separate trials.
Two experimental projects – one in the UK and the other in the US – have now reportedly shown promise in the fight against Covid-19.
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The British team, from Oxford University, is understood to be focusing on T-cells – which develop as a result of a long-lasting immune response.
They have previously said they are “80 per cent” confident they will have a working jab by September.
Experts have today said that their jab produced an immune response in 45 healthy volunteers in an ongoing early-stage study.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers said volunteers who got two doses of the vaccine had high levels of antibodies which exceeded those seen in patients who have recovered from Covid.
Both experimental vaccines work by tricking the body into believing it has been infected with the virus to provoke an immune response that can then attack it.
Early research has focused on antibodies, but scientists are beginning to focus on T-cell immunity.
Known as “memory” cells, they are made in response to an infection and, unlike antibodies, remain long afterwards.
A source on the Oxford team told ITV News: “An important point to keep in mind is that there are two dimensions to the immune response: antibodies and T-cells.
“Everybody is focused on antibodies but there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the T-cells response is important in the defence against coronavirus.”
Oxford University researchers have partnered with drugs giant AstraZeneca, based in Cambridge, to mass produce it.
But researchers have found it difficult to recruit enough people to test it as coronavirus cases in the UK had fallen substantially after the end of March when the country was put in lockdown.
So they’ve been forced to new test subjects in Brazil and South Africa, where there has been a spike in new infections.
However, it’s reported that a positive outcome could be on the cards as the results are expected to be published in British medical journal The Lancet tomorrow.
In his blog, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston said: “Apparently the vaccine is generating the kind of antibody and T-cell (killer cell) response that the researchers would hope to see.”
The Oxford team have yet to report Phase 1 results, which would show whether it is safe and whether or not it induces an immune response.
A spokeswoman for Oxford University today said the team was awaiting confirmation from a scientific journal of a publication date and time for the data, but gave no further details.
Earlier this month, the team said they were encouraged by the immune response they had seen in trials so far and were expecting to publish the data by the end of July.
More than 100 vaccines are being developed and tested around the world to try to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands.
AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine is probably the world’s leading candidate and most advanced in terms of development, the World Health Organisation’s chief scientist said in June.
The company has signed agreements with governments around the globe to supply the vaccine should it be cleared for use.
It comes as researchers in the US reported that Moderna Inc’s experimental vaccine showed it was safe and provoked immune responses in all 45 healthy volunteers in an ongoing early-stage study.
Moderna started its Phase 2 trial in May and expects to start a Phase 3 trial on July 27.
It said the vaccine triggered the immune response with mild side effects, including fatigue, chills, headache and muscle pain.
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The company said it “remains on track to be able to deliver approximately 500 million doses per year, and possibly up to 1 billion doses per year, beginning in 2021.”
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious disease expert, said: “No matter how you slice this, this is good news.”
The vaccine was developed by Fauci’s colleagues at the National Institutes of Health alongside Moderna Inc.