AstraZeneca Collaborates with Oxford's Jenner Institute on COVID-19 Vaccine


AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have partnered on the global development and distribution of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine it is developing. The university’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group are expecting to launch a clinical trial of more than 6,000 people in May, showing not only that their COVID-19 vaccine is safe—typically the goal of smaller Phase I clinical trials—but effective, the goal of larger Phase II and Phase III clinical trials. With emergency approval, the Oxford University researchers believe they could have a few million doses of the vaccine available by September if it is proven effective.

The Jenner Institute tested a vaccine for an earlier coronavirus last year, showing it was not harmful to humans. Their vaccine has been tested in six rhesus macaque monkeys at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana, that were then exposed to large volumes of the virus causing COVID-19. More than 28 days later, all six were still healthy.

Jenner is one of the largest academic centers focused on nonprofit vaccine research. It even has its own pilot manufacturing plant that can make a batch of up to 1,000 doses. And as long ago as 2014, they had developed a template for mass production of the coronavirus vaccine, if it is effective, that could provide a million doses.

Once the pandemic hit, Hill put all the current work on other vaccines into storage and pivoted the institute’s resources and talent on COVID-19. Their vaccine alters the genome of a familiar virus, modifying it first to neutralize any disease effects and then force it to mimic the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Once injected, this “impostor” stimulates the immune system to battle and kill the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 will be tested in healthy volunteers aged 18 to 55 at five trial centers in Southern England. Data from the Phase I trial may be available in May. If everything goes well, it could move to late-stage trials by the middle of the year.

“As COVID-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent,” said Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca. “This collaboration brings together the University of Oxford’s world-class expertise in vaccinology and AstraZeneca’s global development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Our hope is that, by joining forces, we can accelerate the globalization of a vaccine to combat the virus and protect people from the deadliest pandemic in a generation.”

The vaccine leverages a viral vector using a weakened version of a common cold (adenovirus) virus that contains the genetic materials of SARS-C0V-2 spike protein. The adenovirus is what is typically used in gene therapies. After vaccination, the surface spike protein is churned out, priming the immune system to attack COVID-19 if it enters the body. The particular recombinant adenovirus vector (ChAdOx1) was selected to create a strong immune response from a single dose. It does not replicate, so it doesn’t cause an infection in the person receiving the vaccine.

Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said, “Like my colleagues all across Oxford, I am deeply proud of the work of our extraordinarily talented team of academics in the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group. They represent the best tradition of research, teaching and contributing to the world around us, that has been the driving mission of the University of Oxford for centuries. Like people all across the country, we are wishing them success in developing an effective vaccine. If they are successful, our partnership with AstraZeneca will ensure that the British people and people across the world, especially in low and middle income countries, will be protected from this terrible virus as quickly as possible.”

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