On Mar. 17, 2020, European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen said she was hopeful a vaccine for COVID-19 could be available this September. Her view was based on conversations she had had with managers of German biotechnology firm CureVac AG which has developed an experimental messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine that it plans to test in human trials this summer. According to von der Leyen, “The European Union provided them (CureVac) up to €80 million ($89.4 million), and I hope that, with this support, we can have a vaccine on the market perhaps before autumn.1 2 3
The remarks by the EC president came as a surprise, given that well-known public health figures, including Anthony Fauci, MD of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), estimated that it would take 12-18 months to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which means the earliest timeframe a vaccine could be ready is sometime in early 2021.1 2
Another group of vaccine developers at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom are racing to get a vaccine ready to go by the end of this summer. On Apr. 23, 2020, the Oxford team began human trials on an experimental vaccine, designated ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.5
The trial is being led by Andrew Pollard, PhD, professor of pediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford. It will involve more than 800 volunteers, including Elisa Granato who was the first to being injected with the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine. Half of the volunteers will get the vaccine, while the other half will serve as the control group and receive a meningitis vaccine. A second trial, consisting of approximately 5,000 volunteers, is scheduled to begin this summer.6
The vaccine is made from a virus known as ChAdOx1, a weakened version of an adenovirus that causes the common cold as well as infections in chimpanzees, which has been genetically modified. According to the University of Oxford:
Genetic material has been added to the ChAdOx1 construct, that is used to make proteins from the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) called Spike glycoprotein (S). This protein is usually found on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 and plays an essential role in the infection pathway of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus uses its spike protein to bind to ACE2 receptors on human cells to gain entry to the cells and cause an infection.5
The Oxford research team is led by Sarah Gilbert, PhD, who is professor of vaccinology at Oxford University and cofounder of British biotechnology firm Vaccitech Ltd. Dr. Gilbert said she is “80 percent confident” the vaccine will work and that it is possible it could be ready by September “if everything goes perfectly.”6 7 She added, “I think there’s a high chance that it will work based on other things that we have done with this type of vaccine. It’s not just a hunch and as every week goes by we have more data to look at.”7 8
Brendon Wren, PhD, professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, believes Dr. Gilbert’s optimism is realistic. Dr. Wren said:
The Oxford vaccine group are among the most advanced groups in the world and have been working on vaccine biopreparedness for several years. This means that they can test and evaluate COVID-19 vaccine candidates rapidly (even in human volunteers). A strong vaccine candidate available by September would not be surprising.8
1 FRANCE 24 English. “I hope we can have a vaccine on the market perhaps before Autumn,” says Von der Leyen. YouTube Mar. 18, 2020.
2 Cáceres M. A Vaccine for Coronavirus by Autumn? The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 2, 2020.
3 Fisher BL. COVID-19 Meltdown and Pharma’s Big Money Win. The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 13, 2020.
4 TVR Staff. Bill Gates Says Health Care Workers Will Be First to Get Coronavirus Vaccine. The Vaccine Reaction Mar. 20, 2020.
5 University of Oxford. Oxford COVID-19 vaccine begins human trial stage. Apr. 23, 2020.
6 Walsh F. Coronavirus: First patients injected in UK vaccine trial. BBC Apr. 23, 2020.
7 Konotey-Ahulu O. Coronavirus Vaccine Could Be Ready in Six Months: Times. Bloomberg Apr. 11, 2020.
8 Ng K. Coronavirus vaccine could be ready by September, says Oxford professor working on trials. Independent Apr. 11, 2020.