Oxford coronavirus vaccine needed to get us back to normal has only 50% chance of working, top scientist admits – The Sun

BRITAIN’S leading scientist in the hunt to find a coronavirus vaccine has warned that there is only a 50 per cent chance of success.

Professor Adrian Hill, who heads a team of experts at Oxford University, said the chances of discovering a vaccine were being rapidly reduced as Covid-19 cleared up.

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Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced this week a $1.2billion deal with the US government to produce 400million doses of an unproved coronavirus vaccine, dubbed ZD1222, which was first produced in Prof Hill’s lab.

The British government has also agreed to pay for up to 100m doses, saying some 30m may be ready for UK citizens by September.

Any vaccine would allow countries to lift any lockdown restrictions, allow people to return to work and get the economy moving again.

But Prof Hill, who is director of the university’s Jenner Institute, has said that because the virus is rapidly disappearing it reduces the chances of success.

With the country in lockdown this reduces the spread of the disease, making it harder for scientist to prove their vaccine has an impact.

Prof Hill, 61, told The Sunday Telegraph: “It is a race, yes. But it's not a race against the other guys. It's a race against the virus disappearing, and against time.

“We said earlier in the year that there was an 80 per cent chance of developing an effective vaccine by September.

“But at the moment, there’s a 50 per cent chance that we get no result at all.

“We’re in the bizarre position of wanting Covid to stay, at least for a little while. But cases are declining."

He said that of the 10,000 people who had been recruited to test the vaccine – some who will be given an placebo – he expected fewer than 50 people to catch the virus.

But he warned that if fewer than 20 test positive, then the results may be useless.

Prof Hill added: “I wouldn’t book a holiday in October on the back of these announcements, put it that way.”

It's a race against the virus disappearing, and against time.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma suggested half the UK population could be given the jab this autumn, if the trial was a success, at a Downing Street press conference on May 17.

Prof Hill warned: “There’s a danger of over-promising here. This is the way I usually say it: this is our ambition. There are multiple risks. It's never been done before. We don't know if we can do it. We think we can.

The results of an earlier trial conducted by the Oxford team are due to be released early next month when 1,000 volunteers took part in a test in April, during the peak of the pandemic.

The Oxford researchers are just one of eight human trials for a potential Covid-19 vaccine.

There are four in China, two in the US and one in Germany in addition to the one in Oxford.

The Oxford team has already arranged for further trials to take place in the US and are also currently in talks with other countries where the virus is still spreading.

Prof Hill’s current research is based on his earlier search for a vaccine to combat malaria.

Over two decades researchers at the Jenner Institute worked out how to alter the genetic code of a familiar virus, first to neutralise its harmful effects and then to make it imitate a deadlier disease.

The harmless virus is then injected into the bloodstream which causes the body to produce an immune response which gives long-lasting protection.

While there has not yet been a malaria vaccine, a colleague of Prof Hill, Professor Sarah Gilbert was able to modify the same chimpanzee virus to vaccinate against MERS, a coronavirus, which then progressed onto human trials in the UK.

When Covid-19 began to spread, Prof Gilbert carried out a project to see if the Oxford technique could work on the new disease and tests in April on six rhesus macaque monkeys found that after being exposed to the disease all were healthy a month later.

Should the next phase of human trials be a success the Government has said the “people in the UK will get the first access, helping to protect thousands of lives”.



 

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