Scientists conducting trials on a Covid-19 vaccine to tackle all variants of the virus say the first phase is restricted to the UK but the study will be expanded to other countries, including in Africa, based on findings.
So far, the world has about four coronavirus variants of concern, all of which have been reported in Kenya, except for the Gamma variant that was first identified in Brazil. The Delta variant from India is now the most dominant in Kenya.
Researchers from the University of Manchester in the UK, in collaboration with pharmaceutical company Gritstone and the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust are conducting clinical trials on a vaccine that can fight the existing and upcoming coronavirus variants.
Focus on UK
Prof Andrew Ustianowski, the lead researcher, told the Daily Nation via email that the study is still in its early phase and will focus on the UK in the beginning. Only 20 participants have been enrolled in the first phase.
“This is an early phase study and the 20 participants should give us the information we need to progress to much larger studies of this product. It is hoped that the subsequent larger studies will take place in multiple locations, including in Africa,” Prof Ustianowski said.
In the first stages of the clinical trials, the vaccine is only being administered to individuals who are aged 60 and above.
Messenger RNA technology
The study will use the messenger RNA technology, which Prof Ustianowski says has several advantages.
“They can stimulate a robust immune response, they are easier to manufacture at scale, and also, easier to adapt and alter (if needed) than more traditional vaccines,” he explained.
While vaccines work by fooling the immune system into thinking it has been exposed to an infection, this new vaccine is different because it has been designed to stimulate not only antibodies but also T-cells (another branch of the immune system), to multiple targets of the virus.
“The current vaccines we have are targeted against the spike protein, and this can alter over time and hence we have concerns about the new variants. By targeting other sections of the virus, and by especially focusing on T-cell responses, we hope that there will be advantages to this vaccine,” he explained.
No need for update
“This new jab is targeting sections of the virus that do not appear to alter significantly over time. This means that it may not need an update every time,” he added.
In a press statement, Gritstone chief executive Andrew Allen said the vaccine will be a booster shot that will elicit, ‘strong, durable and broad immune response’ that can fight the variants.
“The hope is that this will produce longer lasting immunity and also remain active against newer variants that develop ... I hope learnings from Covid-19 may also improve vaccines for diseases such as the flu,” he said.