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23.04.2020 Europe

Human trials begin in worldwide race to develop Covid-19 vaccine

LISTEN APR 23, 2020

As the world scrambles to find a vaccine to fight Covid-19, which has killed at least 170,000 people, Germany and the UK are set to begin human testing.

Although at least 120 projects around the world are working towards a vaccine, just 5 clinical trials on humans have so far been approved.

Researchers from the University of Oxford on Thursday began trialling the first dose of a potential vaccine based on a virus found in chimpanzees. It will involve 510 healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 55 and has been given an 80 percent chance of success.

Meanwhile the German biotech company Biontech will become the first European business to proceed with clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine, which it has been working on a vaccine since January.

Four variants of a prototype developed with US pharma giant Pfizer will be tested on 200 volunteers also aged between 18 and 55. German regulatory body PEI, which approved the human trials, which will begin at the end of April, said they marked a “significant step” in making a vaccine available as soon as possible.

Most trials still in early stages
The vast majority of the world's vaccine projects, including those developed in France by Sanofi and the Institute Pasteur, are in the so-called preclinical phase. 

"It is during this stage that we develop a prototype according to the type of immune reaction that we want to induce in the body", former World Health Organisation assistant director Marie-Paule Kieny told France Info.

"Once the prototype is found, we test on small animals, often mice, and we produce a vaccine batch that meets all the standards in clinical use and passes all regulatory controls for human administation.”

This step takes at least two months, adds Kieny, a French virologist who sits on a committee advising the government on treatments and tests to combat the virus that causes Covid-19.

Meanwhile a study published by the Institut Pasteur suggests only 5.7 percent of the country's population will have been infected by the time lockdown measures are eased on 11 May. At least 60 percent is considered necessary to achieve herd immunity.

Experts estimate that it will take at least 12 to 18 months to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. So far there are no approved medication for the disease, which has infected more than two million people. 

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