UK scientists announced two breakthroughs in the war on Covid-19 — raising hopes of a vaccine before Christmas.
Early trials of an Oxford University vaccine called ChAdOx1 show it is safe and triggers a strong immune response.
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And a new anti-viral drug may cut the risk of death or serious illness in Covid patients by 79 per cent.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said our scientists “played a blinder.”
The data from research involving more than 1,000 healthy volunteers shows a vaccine developed at Oxford University is safe and triggers a strong immune response.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said the trial result announcement was a “great day for British science.”
He is now increasingly hopeful a vaccine will be available “this side of Christmas.”
Kate Bingham, of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, added: “Optimistically, we’ll be vaccinating by the end of the year.”
Professor Adrian Hill, director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research at Oxford University, said the results were at the “high end” of expectations.
He added: “It’s possible for a vaccine being used by the end of the year.”
That breakthrough came as it was announced that a “game-changing” drug developed by a firm in Southampton could drastically cut the death rate among Covid-19 patients.
Trials with 101 hospital patients found the inhaled drug, which uses an anti-viral protein called interferon beta, cut the need for intensive care treatment by 79 per cent.
Patients were also twice as likely to recover during the two-week treatment period.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs the virus is now “on the back foot.”
He thanked UK scientists for their efforts and added: “They have played a blinder.”
Further trials of the Oxford vaccine will now begin and officials want half a million volunteers to sign up to help.
The vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is a weakened version of a common cold virus that infects chimpanzees.
Scientists modified it with genetic material from Covid-19.
It works by getting the body to make a protein found on the surface of the bug and priming the immune system against it.
Trial data showed volunteers made antibodies and T-cells, a type of white blood cell at the heart of the human immune system, to fight off coronavirus.
The effect stayed strong almost two months after vaccination.
Professor Andrew Pollard, of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “We are seeing good immune responses — exactly the sort of response we were hoping for.”
Scientists will now seek to prove the vaccine protects individuals from becoming sick.
With coronavirus cases falling here, the Oxford team has started trials on thousands of volunteers in Brazil and South Africa where rates are higher.
The UK has already secured 100 million doses of the vaccine, with 30 million set to be delivered this autumn. It all trials are successful vaccinations could start after a month.
The Oxford research was published in medical journal The Lancet.
The most commonly reported side-effects were fatigue and headache, which were treated with paracetamol.
The inhaled drug developed by UK firm Synairgen, called SNG001, works by helping to protect lung cells from damage.
Synairgen chief executive Richard Marsden said the results were “a major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalised Covid-19 patients”.
“We couldn’t have expected much better results than these.
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