More than 130 volunteers in Australia will become part of the first human trials of a coronavirus vaccine in the southern hemisphere.
US biotechnology company Novavax will oversee the trial in Melbourne and Brisbane with 131 healthy adults aged between 18 and 59 years.
Brisbane’s Mater Health Services infectious diseases expert Dr Paul Griffin told Nine’s Today Show on Tuesday it was “very exciting”.
Dr Griffin is one of the researchers overseeing the phase one clinical trials, which are the first step in human testing.
“Healthy volunteers will receive this vaccine for the first time and it’s predominantly about safety,” he said.
“We will carefully monitor them throughout.”
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Apart from safety, the trials will give researchers initial clues about the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by Novavax.
Novavax expects to have some results to share in July. That could pave the way for phase two trials to look at the impact on people with coronavirus and side effects.
“We are, in parallel, making doses – making vaccines – in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year,” Novavax research head Dr Gregory Glenn told a virtual press conference in Melbourne from Novavax’ headquarters in Maryland.
The Novavax trial involves a “recombinant” vaccine created by using genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in giant vats of insect cells in a laboratory.
Scientists extract and purify the protein and package it into virus-sized nanoparticles.
“So it is something almost the same as the surface of the virus but doesn’t contain any live virus,” Dr Griffin said.
“We hope that will then give these volunteers and people that receive this vaccine an immune response that will then protect them from this infection.”
It’s the same process Novavax used to create a nanoparticle flu vaccine that recently passed late-stage testing.
“Potentially, by the end of the year, there will be a significant number of doses available,” Dr Griffin said.
About a dozen experimental vaccines are in the early stages of testing, or due to start, in China, the US and Europe.