BRITISH scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine have said they will know by early summer if it works.
Human trials of the Oxford University jab began last week.
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Now, the team has struck a deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca for a huge roll-out of the vaccine at cost price.
The company has pledged to produce 100million doses this year if the trials prove positive.
And it has promised to put the UK at the front of the queue for early access to millions of jabs.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said several hundred volunteers had already been given the experimental injection.
He said the team should get a “signal about whether it’s working by the middle of June”.
A successful vaccine is crucial to ending restrictions and life returning to normal.
Lead researcher on the Oxford project Professor Sarah Gilbert has previously said she is 80 per cent confident it will succeed.
‘QUICK ROLL OUT’
Sir John told the BBC Today programme the partnership with AstraZeneca would ensure it could be rolled out quickly.
He said: “Once we get an approval by the regulators, we don’t want to have to go back to the beginning and work out how we manufacture it at scale.
“We also want to make sure that the rest of the world will be ready to make this vaccine at scale so that it gets to populations in developing countries where the need is very great.”
Plans are in place to keep 30million doses for vulnerable Brits.
CAN we get a vaccine?
Research to find a vaccine is happening continuously, with around 80 studies around the globe. Trials need to show the vaccine is safe.
WHAT’S the UK doing?
A potential vaccine being developed at the University of Oxford has begun its human trials — the first in Europe.
HOW will it be produced?
The Oxford study has linked up with UK pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to mass produce the potential vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic.
WHEN will one be available?
Most experts reckon by mid-2021 but the Oxford team are saying they will know if theirs works by this summer.
IS there a drug to treat the coronavirus?
Early results of a US trial suggest antiviral drug remdesivir cuts the number of days patients take to leave hospital by almost a third.
HOW does it work?
Remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola, targets a cell enzyme the virus needs.
IS it a game changer?
Potentially. Dr Anthony Fauci, leading member of the US coronavirus task force, said: “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.” But a second trial in China showed no benefit.
WHO is looking for a drug cure?
There are around 300 clinic trials going on worldwide
AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot said investment in the vaccine was a risk worth taking — and said it would be supplied at cost price throughout the pandemic.
And he said 100million doses could be produced this year.
He said: “It is definitely a risk to launch into development of this vaccine, but now is the time to take those risks — this is a terrible crisis we’re facing and we need solutions.
“And a vaccine, of course, is the number one tool we can bring to manage this epidemic.
“We should know relatively soon if it does work. By June or July we will already have a pretty good idea of direction of travel in terms of its potential efficacy.”
The jab involves a weakened version of the common cold containing some of the genetic material from Covid-19.
It works by getting the body to make a protein found on the surface of the bug.
Experts think this should provoke an immune response against the virus — protecting the individual from becoming sick.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading a team at Imperial College London developing a rival vaccine, welcomed the deal.
He said: “This is an encouraging development. We need to make sure UK vaccines are made readily available.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “hugely welcome news” Oxford University had come to an agreement with AstraZeneca to scale up its coronavirus vaccine.
He tweeted: “The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced in the world. Bringing together the best British science and the best of British business will give us the best possible shot at a vaccine.
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“The science is uncertain, and no vaccine may work, but this deal gives the UK the best chance we can of a breakthrough that could defeat this awful virus.”
Professor David Salisbury, former director of immunisation at the Department of Health, commented: “If the Oxford vaccine is shown to be safe and effective by the end of the year, and the UK could access 100million doses at that time, then this would be of extraordinary importance in protecting our population — assuming that each person requires two doses.
“If the UK only accessed 50million doses by the same time, even that would be of huge benefit for the at-risk individuals, health and social care and other essential service workers.”
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