A new coronavirus vaccine developed by Cambridge University could begin clinical trials in the autumn.
Researchers say they have created a “laser specific” approach, using 3D computer modelling to target the right parts of the virus which can launch neutralising antibodies to block infection and remove infected cells.
If antibodies are triggered in the wrong part of the virus, it can trigger bad immune responses causing life-threatening cases of Covid-19, experts say.
Professor Jonathan Heeney, head of the Laboratory of Viral Zoonotics at Cambridge University, and founder of DIOSynVax, said: “We’re looking for chinks in its armour, crucial pieces of the virus that we can use to construct the vaccine to direct the immune response in the right direction.
“Ultimately we aim to make a vaccine that will not only protect from SARS-CoV-2, but also other related coronaviruses that may spill over from animals to humans.”
Trials will take place at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in Southampton and could begin as early as the autumn.
The news comes as scientists working on another vaccine at Oxford University said it could be ready for evaluation by regulators by the end of the year.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the significant step could be possible if the team can gather enough data in clinical trials.
His optimism came after England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that a Covid-19 vaccine may not be available until next winter.
Prof Pollard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that Chris Whitty is quite rightly being cautious, that it could take as long as that to first of all to demonstrate a vaccine works and is safe and then to go through the processes of regulators looking at that very carefully to make sure everything’s been done correctly.
“It is also just possible that if the cases accrue rapidly in the clinical trials that we could have that data to put before regulators this year, and then there would be a process that they go through in order to make a full assessment of the data.”
Prof Pollard said the timing “depends very much on the number of cases that occur in the weeks and months ahead”.
The Oxford University vaccine has shown early promise in trials involving humans but it needs to be approved by regulators before use.
Some 20,000 people are already involved in the trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, with pharmaceutical giant AztraZeneca aiming to enrol 30,000 people in the US.
It comes after reports Donald Trump was considering fast-tracking the experimental vaccine for use in America ahead of the presidential election in November.
But Downing Street said the vaccine would only be available once approved by British regulators – and the UK had already signed a deal to get first access to the jab.