A landmark partnership has been announced today between the University of Oxford and the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The partnership will facilitate the further development and large-scale manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, currently in clinical trials.
"A major force in the struggle against pandemics"
As the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to evolve, the efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine push forward. In the latest development, the University of Oxford announced a partnership today with the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that aims to advance rapidly the manufacture of the coronavirus candidate vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, subject to its successful testing in ongoing human clinical trials.
“Our partnership with AstraZeneca will be a major force in the struggle against pandemics for many years to come. We believe that together we will be in a strong position to start immunising against coronavirus once we have an effective approved vaccine," said Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University in a press release.
Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer, AstraZeneca, said: “This collaboration brings together the University of Oxford’s world-class expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalization of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”
Understanding how ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 works
ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is a recombinant adenovirus vaccine that was developed at Oxford's Jenner Institute. It was created from a common cold virus that infects chimpanzees, ChAdOx1, , that was genetically manipulated to weaken it and prevent it from being able to replicate in humans.
Coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 have a club-shaped protein known as the spike glycoprotein (S protein) on their outer membrane. "The Oxford vaccine contains the genetic sequence of this surface spike protein inside the ChAdOx1 construct. After vaccination, the surface spike protein of the coronavirus is produced, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body," Tony Hitchcock, Technical Director at Cobra Biologics, told Technology Networks in a recent interview.
Adenoviral vectors are a well-studied form of vaccine and have previously been utilized in vaccines targeting over 10 different infectious diseases.
ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is currently being tested across a variety of institutions in the UK, including Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol. The trial will recruit up to 1102 individuals who will be randomly allocated to receive either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19v or a "control" vaccine, MenACWY.
Under normal circumstances, the process of developing, manufacturing, trialling and licensing a vaccine is one that can take between several years to over a decade to complete. And yet, just several months after the COVID-19 outbreak emerged, human clinical trials are already underway.
These are extraordinary times, and as such, scientists and public health authorities are taking extraordinary measures: the Oxford team lead by Prof. Sarah Gilbert started designing a vaccine on Friday January 10, and the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 clinical trial was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in just seven working days.
"The dedicated scientific advice and rapid approval of this important clinical trial demonstrate our commitment to working together to find a vaccine for this pandemic," commented Dr June Raine, Chief Executive for the MHRA.
According to a press release from AstraZeneca, data from the Phase I trial could be available as early as next month, and advancement towards late-stage trials should take place by the middle of 2020
A vaccine for all
Whilst the vaccine candidate is currently only being tested in UK-based patients, under the partnership, AstraZeneca will work alongside global partners to aid international distribution of the vaccine – subject to the candidate being successful.
“No matter where they are developed or who funds them, all tests, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 need to be available and affordable to everyone in the world who needs them. The only way out of this pandemic is by working together and ensuring all countries, especially those with more fragile health systems, have the tools and resources needed to tackle this," commented Dr Charlie Weller, Wellcome's Head of Vaccines.
In a press release, Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University reiterates that the partnership will ensure people across the world, especially in low and middle income countries receive the vaccine.