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The research for Covid-19 vaccine at the United Kingdom’s Imperial College has moved into the human trials stage. The researchers will now see if the developed vaccine is well-tolerated by patients’ bodies and produces an effective immune response against Covid-19.

Congratulating the team of scientists, UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma said, “I am incredibly proud that the vaccine being developed by Imperial College, London is one of the world’s front-runners. We are fully backing the research with over £40 million government funding, as part of our wider vaccine development programme.”

“If these trials are successful, a vaccine will not only help us tackle coronavirus but also emerging diseases now and into the future,” Alok Sharma said.

The major chunk of £41 million funding for the vaccine research came from the government, while further £5 million came from philanthropic gifts, including from hundreds of members of the public. The initial safety tests have been encouraging.

Over the coming weeks, 300 healthy participants in the age group of 18-70 will receive two doses of the vaccine. If the vaccine shows a promising immune response, then larger Phase III trials would be planned later with around 6000 healthy volunteers to test its effectiveness.

Participants will not be intentionally exposed to live SARS CoV-2 virus at any point in the trial.

The vaccine is based on synthetic strands of RNA, rather than a part of the virus. The final vaccine consists of RNA strands packaged inside tiny fat droplets. When injected, it instructs muscle cells to produce virus proteins. It does not create copies of the virus and does not cause changes to the cell’s own DNA. This protein can help kick in the immune response to fight the Covid-19 virus, researchers believe.

Many traditional vaccines are based on a weakened or modified form of virus or parts of it, but the Imperial College vaccine is based on a new approach. It uses synthetic strands of genetic code, based on the virus’s genetic material.

If successful, this will be the first test of a new self-amplifying RNA technology, which experts say, has the potential to revolutionise vaccine development and enable scientists to respond more quickly to emerging diseases.

Kate Bingham from the Vaccine Taskforce Chair said, “I am delighted that Imperial College has so quickly advanced to the clinical trial stage. Their self-amplifying technology has the potential to be a real game-changer, not only for a Covid-19 vaccine but for the development of future vaccines. It’s a great example of the world-leading life sciences sector in this country. By backing Imperial College, London and their alternative vaccine platform, we have enhanced the UK’s vaccine portfolio, increasing our chances of identifying a successful vaccine.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope that if clinical trials are successful, the vaccine could provide protection against Covid-19 both in the UK and around the world.

Professor Robin Shattock, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College who is leading the work, said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed thousands of lives and had a huge impact on daily life. In the long-term, a viable vaccine could be vital for protecting the most vulnerable, enabling restrictions to be eased and helping people to get back to normal life.”

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