Human COVID-19 vaccine trials to start in UK this week
The UK is about to launch groundbreaking tests of a new COVID-19 vaccine which could be ready for general access after the Australian winter.
This week the experimental vaccine will be administered to volunteers as part of a trial being carried out at Oxford University.
It comes as other news has emerged that a vaccine commonly used to protect against mumps, measles and rubella known as MMR could be effective in protecting against COVID-19.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a potential jab which has been developed by Oxford University will start being tested in just two days.
"I can announce that the vaccine from the Oxford project will be trialled in people from this Thursday," Mr Hancock said.
"In normal times, reaching this stage would take years and I'm very proud of the work taken so far.
"At the same time, we will invest in manufacturing capability so that if either of these vaccines safely work, we can make it available for the British people as soon as humanely possible."
Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the Oxford team, said that a vaccine could be available for use by the general public by the northern autumn.
She said: "Personally, I have a high degree of confidence. And, I think, it has a very strong chance of working."
Mr Hancock said the process for finding a vaccine would take "trial and error" but he has told UK scientists leading the search he would "back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need" in order to succeed.
"After all, the upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it," said Mr Hancock.
Also in the UK, scientists are saying the MMR vaccine used to prevent against measles, mumps and rubella could protect against coronavirus.
Experts from the University of Cambridge say the MMR jab, which is typically given to all infants from nine-months-old, could be the reason why children are not as severely affected by COVID-19.
Writing in a new study, the researchers said: "We hypothesise that MMR could protect against poor outcome in COVID-19 infection.
"We therefore propose that vaccination of at-risk age groups with an MMR vaccination merits further consideration as a time-appropriate and safe intervention."
Their revelation comes as trials are beginning to see if the BCG injection, given to many Brits to prevent TB, can also protect against coronavirus.
The Cambridge scientists made their suggestion about the MMR jab after analysing the structure of MMR viruses.
They discovered that the "spike protein" of SARS-CoV-2 is 20 per cent comparable to the measles "fusion protein".
Meanwhile, as countries grapple with the issue of implementing more and faster testing to reopen their economies, to speed up the testing process and protect lab workers, a software and robotics company is leading an effort to develop a robotic system that can process COVID-19 test samples with little human involvement.
Automating the lab testing process would also allow testing to be done 24/7, greatly increasing the volume of tests done per day, according to the company.
"I've been a part of projects where people think 'robots are trying to take my job,' but in this case it's really saving lives," said Hagai Bar, system engineer at Bright Machines.
"You're just replacing all that unnecessary manual work."
"This project really highlights the importance of automation in manufacturing in general, and in the medical field specifically. Redundant, risky manual labour is removed. And robots don't get tired and don't make mistakes - testing labs can operate around the clock."
Originally published as Human vaccine trials to start in UK this week