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UK's 2nd COVID-19 Phase III vaccine trial starts

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-29 09:52
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Increase in cases in the nation makes it an ideal place to test potential jabs 

A vial with potential vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is pictured at the Imperial College London, London, Britain, in this June 10, 2020 file photo.

Thousands of volunteers in the United Kingdom will take part in late-stage trials of a COVID-19 vaccination from United States biotechnology company Novavax, the UK government has announced.

Ten thousand people have been recruited to the Phase III trial for the so-called NVX-CoV2373 vaccine. Half the volunteers will receive the real treatment, with the remainder being given a placebo.

Daily cases of COVID-19 have risen sharply over the last few weeks in the UK. While this is a concern for the public and health services, it makes the nation a good proving ground for the vaccine, as many volunteers are likely to be exposed to the virus.

This is the first Phase III study for the Novavax vaccine, and the second Phase III vaccine trial to be initiated in the UK after the commencement of late-stage trials for a COVID-19 inoculation from biotechnology company AstraZeneca.

"With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the UK, we are optimistic that this pivotal Phase III clinical trial will enrol quickly and provide a near-term view of NVXCoV2373's efficacy," said Novavax Research and Development President Gregory Glenn.

The NVX-CoV2373 works by introducing nanoparticles into the body that bear spike proteins from the novel coronavirus, eliciting an immune response. The vaccine also delivers an adjuvant called Matrix-M. An adjuvant is a pharmacological ingredient that encourages the body to produce more antibodies when the immune system is triggered by the spike proteins.

Novavax initially developed the NVX-CoV2373 technology for influenza, and began repurposing the vaccine in January when the pandemic began to take hold. The vaccine gained approval for late-stage trials after showing promise in animal testing and safety studies.

Of at least 90 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development around the world, fewer than one dozen have reached Phase III clinical trials.

Several major Chinese healthcare companies, including Sinovac Biotech, CanSino Biologics, and Sinopharm, are involved in the development of vaccines that have entered late-stage trials.

The UK government has secured 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which will be manufactured in Stockton-on-Tees in England by Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, a company that produces active ingredients for pharmaceutical companies.

"Finding a safe and effective vaccine that works for the majority of the UK population is the best way to tackle this devastating disease," said Kate Bingham, chair of the UK government's vaccines taskforce.

"Whilst social distancing, testing and other measures can help reduce the impact of coronavirus, the only long-term solution to beating it will be finding a vaccine. One of the ways people can help with that is by signing up to the (National Health Service) Vaccines Registry, so they can be rapidly called."

The addition of the Novavax study means that around 250,000 people are now registered to take part in various COVID-19 vaccine trials in the UK.

The government is asking in particular for more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, as well as those with long-term health conditions, to come forward as volunteers.

"The more people that sign up, the quicker we can find a safe and effective vaccine, defeat this virus and protect millions of lives," said UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

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