UCLH to trial second COVID-19 vaccine

UCLH is to trial a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Imperial College London.

Researchers in the COVAC1 study will test whether the vaccine – which applies a new type of RNA technology – is safe and produces an effective immune response against COVID-19.

UCLH will begin screening healthy volunteers next week, and plans to vaccinate 40 people in August. In total, 300 people across a few sites in the UK are due to receive the vaccine for this early phase trial.

Researchers hope to vaccinate around 6,000 people across the UK in later phase trials.

UCLH is already taking part in a trial of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford so this is the second COVID-19 vaccine trial we are involved in.

As in the Oxford study, Prof Vincenzo Libri, Director of the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Clinical Research Facility, will lead the UCLH portion of the COVAC1 study. The study will take place at the CRF, and delivery of the trial is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at UCLH.

Prof Robin Shattock and Dr Katrina Pollock at Imperial are leading the COVAC1 program overall. Their team launched the study in June. They have carried out rigorous pre-clinical safety checks of the vaccine, and early studies suggest the vaccine could provide the desired immune response.

The study is the first test of a new self-amplifying RNA technology, which has the potential to revolutionise vaccine development.

Many traditional vaccines are based on a weakened or modified form of virus, or parts of it, but the Imperial vaccine uses synthetic strands of genetic code (called RNA) based on the virus’s genetic material.

Once injected into muscle, the RNA generates copies of itself and instructs the body’s own cells to make copies of a spiky protein found on the outside of the virus. This should train the immune system to respond to the coronavirus so the body can easily recognise it and defend against it in future.

The UK government has put more than £41 million into the trial, which has also received £5m in donations.

Prof Libri said: “We are looking forward to working with Imperial to deliver this important phase I trial of a new type of vaccine. Having established significant infrastructure and expertise in large scale Covid-19 vaccine trials, UCLH is fully equipped to act as a major Hub for the successful delivery of this and future studies. I am grateful to the NIHR UCLH CRF vaccine trial team for leading on this huge endeavour.”

UCLH Chief Executive Prof Marcel Levi said: “I am delighted UCLH can be part of this early phase trial and hope to see positive results emerge so that it can progress to later stages, to which we can contribute as well.”

UCLH Director of Research Professor Bryan Williams said: “A vaccine is our best chance of beating Covid-19 so it’s vital we are involved in trials like this as a hospital and as a BRC, especially where trials – like in this case – take a novel scientific approach.”

The NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre has set up a web page for any members of the public interested in taking part in the trial.