New UK vaccine trial starts crucial next stage

Six thousand volunteers will take part in the latest study across 17 National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) sites, including in Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester, Dundee and Belfast.

A global pharmaceutical company is set to begin clinical trials of its potential vaccine in the UK.

Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, part of Johnson & Johnson, will start the next stage of its vaccine testing on Monday with 6,000 volunteers from across the country.

Theirs is the third potential jab about to enter clinical trials in the UK, alongside US biotech company Novavax and the University of Oxford’s vaccine with AstraZeneca, whose trials are ongoing.

The Janssen vaccine is jointly funded by the government’s vaccine taskforce. The latest trial is designed to test its safety and efficacy.

Some of the volunteers were sourced from the more than 300,000 people who signed up to the NHS Vaccines Registry to participate in crucial Covid-19 studies.

It comes after US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced last week that early data suggested their coronavirus vaccine was 90 per cent effective in preventing disease.

The news was hailed as a major breakthrough in the fight against Covid-19. The UK government has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer candidate, with 10 million due to be delivered by the end of 2020 if approval is granted.

Professor Saul Faust, director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility and chief investigator of Janssen’s phase 3 trials, said that although the news of a potential vaccine is cause for optimism, the scientific community is working hard to ensure “we leave no stone unturned in the search for a solution”.

“All the vaccines that are being trialled work by generating immune responses to the same part of the coronavirus as the RNA vaccine that has announced some interim early results,” he added.

In total, the government has developed a portfolio of six different vaccine candidates, with 350 million doses ordered. This includes 30 million doses from Janssen and 100 million from Oxford.

According to Janssen, the vaccine could be made available to the UK by mid-2021 if proven safe and effective.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, said: “The start of further clinical trials in the UK is yet another step forward in the race to discover a safe and effective vaccine, and comes alongside recent news that we could be on the cusp of the first major breakthrough since the pandemic began.

“While we are optimistic with the progress being made, there are no guarantees and it is possible there will be no one-size-fits-all vaccine. That is why it is absolutely vital that while our scientists are cracking on with the job, we continue to follow the guidance to control the virus, protest the NHS and save lives.”

Dr Vanessa Apea, who is the clinical champion for ethnic minority groups at NIHR Clinical Research Network North Thames, said it was of particular importance for people from these communities to take part in vaccine trials as Covid-19 affects them disproportionately.

She said: “The topic of vaccines divides communities. For many, and in particular, black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, the word ‘vaccine’ generates a lot of anxiety, rooted in mistrust, which can understandably lead to reluctance in taking part in a trial.

“We know that these communities are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and this makes it even more important that any outcomes from research, including new treatments and ways to prevent the disease, work for all communities.

“Only by doing this can we truly take control of Covid-19, so we really need people from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities to sign up to learn more and be part of research,” she said, adding that entering a clinical trial is completely a “personal choice”.

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