Queensland begins COVID-19 vaccine human trials

Image from University of Queensland

Innovation Minister Kate Jones has announced that human trials will begin today on the University of Queensland’s promising COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 4000 people have volunteered for the trials and 120 people are needed for the first stage. The human participants would receive the first vaccine dose this morning in Herston. The trial run will be commenced by early phase clinical trial specialist Nucleus Network.

Ms Jones said this development puts Queensland on the map as it now joined a small group of vaccine developers around the world who are transitioning from the lab to human trials.

“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.”

Today’s announcement comes after the Palaszczuk Government announced $10 million in March to fast-track the development of the vaccine by six months, to make it available as early as early 2021.

Professor Paul Young, one of the UQ scientists involved in the vaccine research, said the first human trial focuses on evaluating the safety and immune response of the vaccine in a group of healthy volunteers.

“The green light to move into this human trial follows extensive pre-clinical testing that the team has been conducting since first selecting the lead vaccine candidate on 14 February,” Professor Young said.

“This testing showed that the vaccine was effective in the lab in neutralising the virus and safe to give to humans.”

If the first phase is a success Prof Young said they can move on to the next stage in the vaccine’s development which is a larger trial with a much bigger group of people from a range of ages to see if the vaccine works across the board.

According to the statement the clinical batch of vaccine for use in the trial was manufactured by a close partnership between UQ and CSIRO with technical assistance by Australian biotech company CSL, Brisbane based Thermo Fisher and Swedish company Cytiva.

Project Director Professor Trent Munro said the team had known from the beginning that they would need to advance the manufacturing component of the development pipeline to run alongside clinical trials.

“We recently also announced a manufacturing partnership with CSL, so if things go to plan, they’ll rapidly advance production of millions of doses and move the program into later stage clinical testing, regulatory approval, large-scale manufacture and distribution,” he said.

“It’s great to see this Queensland program underpin such a strong Australian connection.”

In the rest of the world leading pharmaceutical companies are also in a tight race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. According to a report from Reuters, Astra Zeneca leads the companies as the British drugmaker has already commenced large-scale, mid-stage human trials of the vaccine. The company has also signed its tenth supply-and-manufacturing deal in late June.

Meanwhile Moderna is a close second in terms of vaccine development, with phase three clinical trials expected in mid-July.

Image credit: University of Queensland