Coronavirus vaccine: Novavax begins human trials in Australia

Human trials for a coronavirus vaccine have begun in Australia as US biotechnology company Novavax hopes to release a proven jab this year.

The company said 131 volunteers in Melbourne and Brisbane are being used to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Animal testing suggested it is effective in low doses, and Novavax could manufacture at least 100 million doses this year and 1.5 billion in 2021, the company’s research chief Dr Gregory Glenn said.

He added: “We are in parallel making doses, making vaccine in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year.”

Manufacture of the vaccine, named NVX-CoV2373, was being scaled up with $388m (€355) invested by Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations since March, Dr Glenn said.

The trial began with six volunteers being injected with the potential vaccine in Melbourne on Tuesday, said Paul Griffin, infectious disease expert with Australian collaborator Nucleus Network.

About a dozen experimental vaccines are in early stages of testing or poised to start, mostly in China, the US and Europe.

It is not clear that any of the candidates ultimately will prove safe and effective, but many work in different ways and are made with different technologies, increasing the odds that at least one approach might succeed.

The results of the first phase of clinical trials in Australia are expected to be known in July, Novavax said, and thousands of candidates in several countries would then become involved in a second phase.

Most of the vaccines in the pipeline aim to train the immune system to recognise the “spike” protein that studs the coronavirus’ outer surface, priming the body to react if it ever encountered the real infection.

Some candidates are made using just the genetic code for that protein, and others use a harmless virus to deliver the protein-producing information.

The Novavax jab is a recombinant vaccine – where genetic engineering is used to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein which is treated like the virus by the immune system.