Valneva will begin phase one and two UK trials of its coronavirus vaccine today, boosting Britain’s chances of wide-scale inoculation next year.
The Scottish-based vaccine company will initially test its jab on 150 British volunteers in England. Early stage trials will attempt to prove whether the vaccine produces a safe and effective immune response against Covid-19.
If successful, Valneva will then begin larger clinical trials involving more than 4,000 UK volunteers in April 2021, who will each be given two doses of the vaccine.
“Today we have more welcome news that life-saving clinical trials will begin across the country to test the safety and effectiveness of Valneva’s vaccine, which is being clinically developed right here in the UK,” said business secretary Alok Sharma.
“As we take the monumental steps in rolling out the first Covid-19 vaccine, we must remember that we need to have a range of vaccines available to protect the British public now and long into the future.”
The UK government has ordered 60m doses of Valneva’s vaccine candidate — enough to immunise 30m people.
That compares to orders for 40m doses of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, which last week initiated Britain’s largest ever vaccination programme.
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Ninety-year-old Margaret Keenan last Tuesday became the first person in the world to receive a coronavirus vaccine outside of a clinical trial, with jabs of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine set to be administered at dozens of hospital hubs across the country.
Around 800,000 doses are expected to be available in the UK by the end of this week, with care home residents and carers, the over-80s and some health service workers at the front of the queue.
The government has spread its bets with 357m orders of seven different vaccine candidates, placing its largest stake in the Astrazeneca/University of Oxford vaccine, of which the UK is in line to receive 100m doses.
It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock on Monday raised eyebrows after announcing that a new variant of coronavirus has been identified in the southeast of England.
Speaking in the Commons, Matt Hancock said: “Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the south of England.”
“Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than existing variants,” Hancock told MPs.
The health secretary added that it was “highly unlikely” that the new mutation would “fail to respond to a vaccine”.
However, Hancock’s comments sparked concern that the new strain would scupper the wide-scale rollout of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, which is specifically suited to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 strain.
The new variant is currently being cultured at Porton Down, where Public Health England also has a research laboratory.