News Coronavirus Oxford researchers take big step forward in race to develop coronavirus vaccine
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Oxford researchers take big step forward in race to develop coronavirus vaccine

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Oxford University has developed a coronavirus vaccine with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca that can stimulate a strong immune response to fight off infection.

Researchers in another British study are also celebrating a “major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients”.

The Oxford trial found the vaccine was safe and well-tolerated, according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal on Tuesday morning (Australian time).

All volunteers, which included 1077 healthy adults, showed strong antibody and T cell immune responses in the first two months of being injected.

The vaccine produced a cellular immune response, or T cell response, within 14 days of vaccination and an antibody response within 28 days.

The British government has already ordered 100 million doses of the potential vaccine, which is said to be made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was too early to get hopes up the vaccine would be a guaranteed success.

“There are no guarantees, we’re not there yet and further trials will be necessary – but this is an important step in the right direction,” Mr Johnson said.

Researchers injected 10 volunteers a second time to assess whether the immune responses “may be even greater after a second dose”.

Early results show “the vaccine is safe, causes few side effects, and induces strong immune responses in both parts of the immune system”, the researchers wrote. 

It is too soon to know whether the vaccine can successfully attack the virus when it’s circulating in the body, as well as attacking infected cells.

The vaccine had been previously tested by CSIRO researchers at a lab in Geelong, Victoria.

“We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period,” said Oxford’s Andrew Pollard, the lead author of the study.

Pollard cautioned that his team needs “more research before we can confirm the vaccine effectively protects against Sars-CoV-2 infection, and for how long any protection lasts”.

That is not the only treatment showing promising results.

‘Major breakthrough’

A British company that is trying to stimulate an immune response using a protein called interferon beta has released preliminary results which suggests the treatment can prevent people from needing intensive care.

Biotech firm Synairgen had 101 coronavirus patients inhale the drug, SNG001, a formulation of the naturally occurring antiviral protein.

Infected participants who were administered the drug had a 79 per cent less chance of ending up in hospital and requiring ventilation.

Synairgen claimed they were two to three times more likely to recover to the point where everyday activities were not compromised by their illness.

Synairgen said the small study could signal a “major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalized Covid-19 patients”.

“Our efforts are now focused on working with the regulators and other key groups to progress this potential Covid-19 treatment as rapidly as possible.”

The trial’s lead investigator, Tom Wilkinson, said the interferon beta has “huge potential as an inhaled drug to be able to restore the lung’s immune response, enhancing protection, accelerating recovery and countering the impact”.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and has not released the full data.