Professor Robin Shattock, the lead for Imperial's COVID-19 vaccine, updated the European Parliament today on the progress of his team's vaccine.
Professor Shattock said that human volunteers seem to be 'responding well' to the vaccine and they are aiming to launch a large 20,000 person trial by the end of this year.
Professor Shattock said that if trials continue to show promising results, international trials will commence later this year with potential approval for the vaccine by mid-2021.
European collaboration and funding
Professor Shattock was giving evidence at a joint hearing of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and (ITRE) and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committees.
Professor Shattock highlighted how European funding and collaboration is essential when tackling global health challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are all in a race against the virus and not each other. The more vaccines that pass the finishing line, the greater choice we have for global access." Professor Robin Shattock Imperial's vaccine lead
In 2015, Professor Shattock received £23 million through Horizon2020 to coordinate the EAVI2020 programme - a European research project to develop a HIV Vaccine.
Professor Shattock said: "Researchers working closely together across Europe is so essential for excellent science. We have been working with a number of EU colleagues from this programme on the development, evaluation and production of our COVID-19 vaccine.
"The lessons learned with prototype RNA vaccines from the EAVI2020 project have informed design elements that we are now applying to COVID-19.
"In the past I have been grateful for the support I've received through Horizon2020 schemes to develop new vaccines, include EAVI2020 which brings together scientists from 22 institutions in Europe, Canada, Australia and the US to work on producing effective HIV vaccine"
Professor Shattock added: "The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of international cooperation when dealing with global health emergencies and the role of supranational bodies in funding vaccines and treatment technology.
"We believe coordinated action across Europe and the world will be crucial as we move to next stage of the pandemic and look to deal with other current and future global challenges.
"We are all in a race against the virus and not each other. The more vaccines that pass the finishing line, the greater choice we have for global access."
Vaccine global accessibility
Professor Shattock explained that if his team's vaccine is successful they will distribute it through a new social enterprise, VacEquity Global Health, and aim to distribute it as widely as possible, including to low- and middle-income countries.
For the UK and low-income countries abroad, Imperial and VGH will waive royalties and charge only modest cost-plus prices to sustain the enterprise’s work, accelerate global distribution and support new research.
Natural immunity, vaccine protection and virus mutation
Professor Shattock said: "The numbers of reinfection are currently extremely low and there is no evidence to suggest that reinfection is associated with serious disease. We're not seeing repeated episodes of serious disease. We can be confident that natural immunity in the majority does provide some protection against severe disease.
"We are at a stage where we don't know if any of these vaccines work and so our understanding of the duration of protection that any vaccine may deliver is at best, guess work at this stage. I think we cannot rule out the possibility that there may be requirement for repeat boosting, particularly for vulnerable populations, potentially on an annual basis."
Speaking about whether potential vaccines could become ineffective if the virus mutates, Professor Shattock said: "One of the pieces of good news is that this virus seems to be showing very little change at this stage, and so there's no evidence that any of the vaccines currently in development will be rendered redundant by changes in the virus but this needs to be monitored very carefully."
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