We are COVID-19 vaccine researchers, Anna and Paul. After successful trials in mice, we’ve been carrying out the first human trials of a brand-new type of vaccine with the potential to protect a significant proportion of the world’s population. As...
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Our approach: Our approach to this vaccine is unique, both compared to other teams around the world fighting COVID-19, and to traditional vaccine development. Almost every viral vaccine ever developed involves injecting a small amount of a weakened version of the virus or viral protein into your body. But ours works differently. We are using RNA, the genetic material that encodes the surface “spike” proteins of the coronavirus, and injecting that into people. In this way, we are able to use your body’s cells as a bioreactor to produce the viral protein and hopefully trigger immunity.
The aim of our vaccine is the same as any other - to prep the body's immune system by getting it to create antibodies that will quickly destroy the virus if you become infected. However, there is nothing of the virus inside those spike proteins. Instead they are tricking your immune system into thinking it’s seeing the whole virus to elicit an immune response. The advantage of our vaccine is that we only need a tiny dose: 2 million doses can come from a single litre of vaccine as opposed to the 10,000 litres of vaccine that would be required by traditional methods.
Pushing forward: Results from initial trials in mice were positive. Antibody levels in the blood of vaccinated mice were higher than those measured in samples of recovered patients leaving a hospital in London. So we are now pushing forward in two ways. Firstly, through human trials to compare placebo groups with vaccinated groups to look for evidence of successful immune responses. Secondly, due to the severity of the global pandemic, we have had to assume success and start plans for mass distribution that will allow us to vaccinate a significant proportion of the world.
We’re taking a unique approach to this too. Rather than partnering with the pharmaceutical industry, we've launched a social enterprise, VacEquity Global Health (VGH) to bring our COVID-19 vaccine to the world. For the UK and low-income countries abroad, VGH will waive royalties and, due to the potency of the vaccine and this business model, we’re hoping to keep the price below £10 per dose. This modest cost-plus price will be used to sustain the enterprise’s work, accelerate global distribution and support new research.
During this AMA we would love to discuss what it’s like to work on a vaccine the world is waiting for, how we are ensuring the vaccine is effective but also safe, and the role of vaccines within society beyond COVID-19.
- An explanation of how the Imperial Vaccine works - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/covid-19-vaccine-trial/vaccine-science/
- Imperial News story - Imperial social enterprise to accelerate low-cost COVID-19 vaccine https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/198053/imperial-social-enterprise-accelerate-low-cost-covid-19/
- Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine trial: a video recorded with Anna and Paul’s colleagues at St Mary’s Hospital - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya57ptAzVLo
- Anna Blakney – personal website - https://annablakney.com/
- Paul McKay, academic page - https://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/p.mckay