Australian health officials have commenced human trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Queensland (UQ), with researchers announcing on Monday that healthy adult volunteers had received their first dose at a clinic in Brisbane.
The Phase 1 trial of the vaccine will involve about 120 volunteers, aged 18 to 55, each of whom will be injected with two doses of the vaccine every four weeks. Some will receive a placebo, and all will be closely and regularly monitored for a 12-month period while the safety and immune response of the vaccine is analysed. Volunteers will need to maintain the same social distancing and hygiene practises as everyone else.
Preliminary results are expected to be released by the end of September.
“We expect to have preliminary results after about three months, and if all goes well, we can move as fast as we can to the next stage in the vaccine’s development,” said Professor Paul Young, co-leader of the project. “That [next stage] will be a larger trial with people from a range of ages, to ensure the vaccine works across the board”
While Professor Young said he “can’t define” when a vaccine might be ready for distribution, he indicated that the team is hoping to have something by mid-2021.
"The plan is we're in place by the middle of next year,” he told the ABC, noting that the trial vaccine showed promise during the extensive period of preclinical testing. “This testing showed that the vaccine was effective in the lab in neutralising the virus and safe to give to humans,” he said.
The UQ clinical trial is one of several currently being conducted around Australia, with the country's first launching in Victoria back in May. Others have also kicked off in countries like China, the United States, and Britain. Russia, meanwhile, recently announced that they had completed human trials and would soon start discharging test patients.
In the race to get a safe and effective vaccine over the line, state Innovation Minister Kate Jones described Queensland as "one of the most promising vaccine candidates on the planet”.
“This research is putting Queensland on the map,” she said in a statement. “We invested millions into this research because we know a vaccine is crucial to defeating COVID-19. But the success of our research has the eyes of the world on Queensland.
“Today makes me proud to be a Queenslander. Our vaccine—made in Queensland by Queenslanders—could save millions of lives throughout the world.”
Researchers at UQ have partnered with a manufacturing company to speed up the process of making the vaccine widely available in the event that it passes all the trials. Project Director Professor Trent Munro said that, all things going to plan, the partnership will “rapidly advance production of tens of millions of doses and move the program into later stage clinical testing, regulatory approval, large-scale manufacture and distribution.”