Imperial College London takes RNA COVID vaccine into clinic

A vaccine candidate that allegedly turns cells in the body into ‘mini-antibody producing factories’ against COVID-19 has begun first-in-human clinical trials.

The latest effort in combatting COVID-19 comes form the UK’s Imperial College London, with its vaccine candidate beginning Phase I trials this week.

The vaccine is being developed through over £41 million ($51 million) of UK government funds and is based on a self-amplifying RNA technology.

Image: iStock/Alastair James

“The way the vaccine works is quite different from other approaches in that we use the genetic code for just a small part of the virus that fastest protein that antibodies need to lock on to,” Robin Shattock, professor of Mucosal Infection and Immunity, Imperial College, told UK-based radio station LBC earlier this week.

“We take that tiny code, and we make multiple copies of it, and capture it in microscopic fat droplets. When it’s injected into the muscle, the muscle takes up those droplets and gets the instructions to make that protein, and they become mini factories that churn out the viral protein and alert immune system to make those protective antibodies.”

Shattock, who leads the project, said development has moved at “extraordinary speed,” going from code to testing the concept in just six months, rather than what normally would have been a five-year process.

“In the first stage we’re looking for safety and a signal that it induces a right time for the immune response,” he said. “And once we have safety from 300 participants which we hope to have by September time, we’ll then move to doing a large trial with a placebo vaccine to see if it actually works for preventing natural infection out in the community.”

One of the frontrunners in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is another UK university-based candidate, AZD1222, developed by the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford. That project is progressing fast with support from AstraZeneca, but Shattock said there are no plans to team with a Big Pharma firm.

“We’re looking to make it available as a not-for-profit so that it can be accessible, not just to the UK but ideally, globally, through partnerships with different manufacturers.”

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