‘Huge milestone’ in UQ coronavirus vaccine
The University of Queensland coronavirus vaccine has worked in animal trials and produced no severe side effects during early-stage human studies, offering a signal of hope in the fight against the virus.
New data from laboratory experiments in The Netherlands shows the much-anticipated vaccine, dubbed S-clamp, offers protection to hamsters when exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Early results from the Brisbane-based first human trial in 120 healthy adults are also promising, causing no major complications after a single dose, UQ scientist Keith Chappell said.
"All the results to date show that it is safe and likely to provide protection against both the virus infection and the symptoms of disease," he said.
"In hamsters, we can confidently say that we elicit a stronger neutralising immune response than the average infection in a human being.
"Infection of a human being in the real world is distinct from a hamster in the laboratory but we hope there will be parallels there and these results are pointing in the right direction. It looks really good."
Associate Professor Chappell, part of a group of Brisbane researchers who have spent the past seven months working on the candidate vaccine, presented the latest findings to 3000 members of the International Society of Vaccines on a Zoom hook-up overnight.
Speaking before the presentation, Associate Professor Chappell said trials of the vaccine in the hamsters found two doses did a "great job" at providing protection.
SARS-CoV-2 has infected about 23 million people throughout the world and killed more than 813,000, with cases mounting.
"I think what we should all be aiming for is complete eradication of this virus around the globe through social distancing, contact tracing and an effective vaccine," Prof Chappell said.
"I believe that's an achievable goal. In regards to vaccines, we should be aiming for better protection than natural exposure and that's what we're hoping that our hamster results support, that we're inducing stronger neutralising antibodies than the average infection in a human."
If an effective vaccine to protect against SARS-CoV-2 can be produced it will be a significant achievement given no vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus.
Prof Chappell's colleague Trent Munro, who is also working on S-clamp, said that importantly, the researchers had shown their candidate vaccine could be produced "at scale" to enable millions of potential doses.
"Everything we've seen so far gives us continued confidence to keep pushing," Prof Munro said.
All the 120 participants in the first human trial of the vaccine, healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, have received at least one dose with no safety concerns so far.
"Everything's going very well," Prof Munro said, adding another announcement was expected later this week.
Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones described the latest data as "a huge milestone in the development of a Queensland vaccine".
"A vaccine is vital in putting an end to this pandemic," Ms Jones said.
"The sooner we can produce a coronavirus vaccine, the sooner life will get back to normal for millions of Queenslanders who have been impacted by this pandemic."
Under a deal with UQ, Australian-based biotech company CSL is already laying the ground work towards ramping up the manufacturing of millions of doses of the vaccine from its Melbourne plant if trials show it is safe and effective.
Public access is possible at some stage next year under an accelerated delivery pipeline.
Originally published as 'Huge milestone' in UQ coronavirus vaccine