South African-linked COVID-19 vaccine is leading clinical trials

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its “Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines” report, which includes 10 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation.

Topping the candidate vaccine list is a ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, now known as AZD1222, which is developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group.

This vaccine uses a replication-deficient chimpanzee viral vector, based on a weakened version of a common cold virus, that contains the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

After vaccination, the surface spike protein is produced, priming the immune system to attack COVID-19 if it later infects the body.

The recombinant adenovirus vector (ChAdOx1) was chosen to generate a strong immune response from a single dose and it is not replicating, so cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual.

The ChAdOx1 vaccine is currently in phase 2b/3 of clinical evaluation and has been given to more than 320 people to date and have been shown to be safe and well-tolerated.

No other candidate SARS-CoV2 vaccine in the world has reached this stage of clinical evaluation and regulatory status.

AstraZeneca to produce vaccine

The University of Oxford scientists have partnered with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca has recently signed a $750 million agreement to support the manufacturing, procurement and distribution of 300 million doses of the vaccine.

This agreement was reached with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi the Vaccine Alliance.

AstraZeneca has also reached a licensing agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) to supply one billion doses for low and middle-income countries.

Only days later Emergent BioSolutions announced it would deploy its molecule-to-market contract development and manufacturing services to support the manufacturing of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Under the $87 million agreement, Emergent will provide development services, technology transfer, analytical testing, drug substance process and performance qualification.

AstraZeneca is now building a number of supply chains across the world to support global access at no profit during the pandemic.

AstraZeneca has so far secured manufacturing capacity for two billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Link to South Africa

South African investment management company Sygnia owns a 16% share in Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), which in turn owns the right to commercialise all the IP which comes out of Oxford University.

Sygnia is currently the biggest single shareholder in OSI which has the lifelong rights for all patents and inventions from Oxford University, including the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine.

Sygnia founder and CEO Magda Wierzycka explained that retail investors can buy a shareholding in OSI though some of their unit trusts, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution unit trusts, as well as an exclusive product called Sygnia OSI Fund.

“Obviously the access to these shares is quite scarce and so we’ve got a lot more commitments to the fund than we have shares available at the moment,” said Wierzycka.

Wierzycka highlighted that neither Sygnia nor any other investors funding the development of the vaccine will profit from it during the pandemic.

The return on investment will only come in future years if the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine works.

COVID-19 candidate vaccines

The table below provides an overview of the ten COVID-19 candidate vaccines which are currently in clinical evaluation.

COVID-19 Candidate Vaccines
Platform Type of candidate vaccine Developer Current stage of clinical evaluation
Non-Replicating Viral Vector ChAdOx1-S University of Oxford/AstraZeneca Phase2b/3
Non-Replicating Viral Vector Adenovirus Type 5 Vector CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology Phase 2
RNA LNPencapsulated mRNA Moderna/NIAID Phase 2
Inactivated Inactivated Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm Phase 1/2
Inactivated Inactivated Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm Phase 1/2
Inactivated Inactivated + alum Sinovac Phase 1/2
Protein Subunit Full length recombinant SARS CoV-2 glycoprotein nanoparticle vaccine adjuvanted with Matrix M Novavax Phase 1/2
RNA 3 LNP-mRNAs BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer Phase 1/2
Inactivated Inactivated Institute of Medical Biology , Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Phase 1
DNA DNA plasmid vaccine with electroporation Inovio Pharmaceuticals Phase 1

Now read: The chance of dying from COVID-19 for different risk factors in South Africa

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South African-linked COVID-19 vaccine is leading clinical trials