A coronavirus vaccine being developed by Imperial College London could be approved for use by the middle of next year, an expert has said.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading the university’s Covid-19 vaccine effort, told the European Parliament trials are showing promising results.
He said human volunteers seem to be “responding well” to the vaccine and the aim is to launch a large 20,000-person trial before the end of the year.
Prof Shattock explained that if trials continue to show promising results, international trials will begin later this year with potential approval for the vaccine by mid-2021.
He added that if their vaccine is successful, it will be distributed through a new social enterprise – VacEquity Global Health (VGH) – and the aim will be 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.
Prof Shattock also spoke about the natural immunity, how much protection a vaccine might provide, and virus mutations.
He 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.”
He added that one piece of good news was that the virus appears to be showing very little change, or mutation, at this stage.
There is therefore “no evidence any of the vaccines currently in development will be rendered redundant by changes in the virus but this needs to be monitored very carefully,” Prof Shattock said.
Giving evidence at a joint hearing of the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and (ITRE) and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committees, he also highlighted how European funding and collaboration is essential when tackling global health challenges.
The more vaccines that pass the finishing line, the greater choice we have for global accessProfessor Robin Shattock
Prof Shattock said: “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.”
Prof Shattock said co-ordinated action across Europe and the world will be crucial as people move on to the 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,” he told MEPs.