Scientists behind Australia’s leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate say it performed “better than expected” in a preclinical animal trial and they have “absolutely no safety concerns” with the more than 100 human participants jabbed thus far.
The University of Queensland researchers have released the results regarding their earlier trial on hamsters, presented to the International Society of Vaccines overnight.
Project co-leader Associate Professor Keith Chappell on Wednesday said a single dose of their “molecular clamp” type vaccine provided a strong level of protection from the coronavirus in the animals.
“Around half of the animals had no virus at all detected in the lungs and the other half had reduced levels,” he told the ABC.
“We saw a marked reduction in the severity of the disease in the hamsters.
“The protection we saw after a single dose was better than we expected.”
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In a statement about the “positive results”, Prof Chappell said: “The neutralising immune response created by our molecular clamp vaccine in animal models was better than the average level of antibodies found in patients who have recovered from COVID-19.”
He said they had seen “very good immune responses in the animal model” and the protection after a single dose “was better than we expected”.
“And also we’ve got very good data showing protection from challenge in those animals,” he said.
“So we can say that the immunisation has in fact protected from disease, so virtually no disease in the lungs and has suppressed the virus in the respiratory tract as well.”
Since July, 120 healthy human volunteers aged 18 to 55 have received the vaccine with preliminary results expected after about three months.
Prof Chappell said there are “absolutely no safety concerns with all the participants dosed so far” and the last 20 were given a dose this week.
He told the ABC results indicate that two doses of the vaccine “do a great job” of protecting against replication of the virus and the disease itself.
The ability to produce vaccines “at sufficient scale for widespread use” is one of the big challenges in the vaccine development, which is where Seqirus – under its parent global biotechnology company CSL – comes in, Prof Chappell said.
“We are working with CSL to ensure the production yield is as efficient as possible, and have every confidence they will be able to manufacture the millions of doses required to protect the Australian public,” he said.
Prof Chappell said trials are progressing at a speed “with which we’ve never tried before”.
“So an accelerated pipeline of clinical trial activity, where we’re looking at multiple components – that normally would be split out into a broader clinical trial – will take place over the next year,” he said.
“I would imagine is middle of next year is when we’d have our first access to it.”
Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones said the vaccine trial results were a “huge milestone”.
“A vaccine is vital in putting an end to this pandemic,” Ms Jones said.
“The sooner we can produce a coronavirus vaccine, the sooner life will get back to normal for millions of Queenslanders who have been impacted by this pandemic.”
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Deputy chief health officer Michael Kidd told Today on Wednesday the results were “very encouraging”.
“This is really good news, especially coming out of Australia,” Professor Kidd said.
“We have some of the top vaccine researchers in the world based in our country who are putting their efforts into finding the vaccine for COVID-19 and very encouraging to see these early results coming out from the trials being run by the University of Queensland.”
According to the World Health Organisation’s “draft landscape” of COVID-19 candidate vaccines, there were 31 in clinical evaluation across the globe as of August 25.
The two-dose UQ vaccine is in phase one of human trials while the single dose University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine is in the third and final clinical stage and is being tested on thousands of people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the federal government had secured a deal with the UK-based drug company for “every single Australian” to receive the University of Oxford vaccine for free “should trials prove successful, safe and effective”.
Mr Morrison said a Letter of Intent had been signed with AstraZeneca for the supply of the vaccine candidate to Australia and a consumables contract with Becton Dickinson for needles and syringes.
He later backtracked on comments that the COVID-19 vaccine would be “as mandatory as possible”.
“There’s been a bit of an over-reaction to any suggestion of this, there will be no compulsory vaccine,” he told 2GB.
“What we want to achieve is as much vaccination as we possibly can.”
In a statement, Mr Morrison said: “A final formal agreement will include distribution, timing and price of the (Oxford University) vaccine.”