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U.K. expects first access on Oxford vaccine, rolls out antibody study

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The U.K. will be “the first to get access” to the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said Sunday, adding that 30 million doses will be available by September, when Oxford hopes to make the vaccine available for emergency use. The country also rolled out an antibody testing program to track COVID-19 infections and symptoms of 20,000 participants.

In a press briefing Sunday, Sharma said the U.K. will provide £84 million ($101.7 million) collectively to vaccine programs from the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Imperial College London.

The funding for Oxford, which Sharma did not break out from the total amount, will help the university mass produce its ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine “so that if current clinical trials are successful, we have dosages to start vaccinating the U.K. population straight away.”

Imperial will use the funding to start a Phase III trial of its mRNA vaccine this year, which has received £1.7 million via U.K. Research and Innovation.

Oxford is collaborating with Vaccitech Ltd. to develop ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and has partnered with AstraZeneca plc (LSE:AZN; NYSE:AZN) and Serum Institute of India, among others, to manufacture the recombinant adenovirus vaccine, which encodes the SARS-CoV-2 spike (see “AstraZeneca to Make COVID-19 Vaccine”).

Sharma said that Oxford has now finalized that global licensing agreement with AZ, “with government support.” The pharma will provide 30 million doses by September for the U.K., and will deliver 100 million doses total.

While the U.K. will be the first to receive the vaccine, Sharma said the government is “able to make the vaccine available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost.”

As the first data for leading vaccines begin to emerge, including non-human primate data for Oxford’s vaccine published in bioRxiv last week, concerns about the potential for vaccine nationalism have risen, especially as initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccines will fall far short of demand. Supplies could initially be restricted to individuals living in countries where vaccines are manufactured, wealthy countries could out bid poorer nations for surplus vaccines, and governments could use vaccines as instruments of diplomacy or coercion (see “Manufacturing Limits Spark Fears of Vaccine Nationalism”).

In the preprint, an Oxford and NIH team reported that all six monkeys vaccinated intramuscularly with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 produced virus-neutralizing antibodies and did not show signs of antibody-dependent enhancement. However, the vaccine did not prevent infection (see “Preclinical Data Suggest Oxford Vaccine Could Reduce COVID-19 Symptoms”).

Sharma also committed an additional £93 million to build the U.K.’s Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre. When the facility opens in summer 2021, it will have capacity to produce enough vaccine doses to serve the entire U.K. population in as little as six months, he said.

While the site is being built, the U.K. will also provide £38 million to establish a rapid deployment facility to begin vaccine manufacturing at scale this summer.

Oxford began on a Phase I trial of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 on April 23; more than 1,000 individuals have volunteered as of May 13. The study will enroll over 6,000 individuals, and data are expected this summer (see “End of the Beginning for COVID-19 Vaccines”).

U.K. tracking infections, symptoms

Separately, the U.K. launched a study to repeatedly administer antibody tests to 20,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales to track the virus’s spread.

The study will be led by UK Biobank, which has been following the health of 500,000 participants over the last 10 years through health records, genetic and lifestyle data. Participants in the COVID-19 study will be chosen from existing, consented UK Biobank volunteers, as well as their adult children and grandchildren.

Every month, participants will be sent a capillary blood collection kit and be asked to complete a symptoms questionnaire. De-identified samples will be tested for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at Oxford.

The study aims to determine what proportion of the population has already been infected, the duration of immunity and why the virus affects people differently.

First results are expected early June.

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