Oxford Researcher Working On Coronavirus Says Vaccine Could Show Effectiveness In Humans By June

An Oxford University scientist says that he's hopeful a vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be showing efficacy by June, although he didn't offer a timetable for when the vaccine would be available for widespread use, NBC News reports.

Sir John Bell spoke to Meet The Press on Sunday and talked about the work his team, the Jenner Institute working as part of the Oxford Vaccine Group, is doing on producing a vaccine for the virus. As Business Insider reports, the Oxford team has already produced a vaccine — hAdOx1 nCoV-19 — and then shipped it to a lab in Montana to be tested on rhesus macaques. The animals were exposed to exceptionally high concentrations of the virus. After 28 days, none of the primates showed any signs of illness, from the vaccine itself or from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Though the experiment was carried out on animals and not on humans, Vincent Munster, the head of the Virus Ecology Unit at the laboratory, said that the biological similarities between the two species mean the results are promising for the vaccine's use on humans.

"The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans," Munster said.

MADISON, WI - JUNE 28: Jennifer Post, a research specialist at the Wisconsin National Primate research Center (WNPRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, takes a saliva sample from a pregnant rhesus macaque monkey infected with the Zika virus on June 28, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. Researchers at the University released a study today detailing how research at the facility has found the Zika virus persisted in the blood of pregnant monkeys for 30 to 70 days but only around 7 days in others. The study also found that monkeys previously infected with the virus were resistant to a second infection, which suggests the animals have a naturally occurring immunity. Health professionals in the United States are preparing for the possibility of an epidemic of Zika which can be transmitted by mosquitoes. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Getty Images | Scott Olson

Bell, for his part, is bullish on the results so far.

"As every day goes by, the likelihood of success goes up," Bell said.

He said he's hopeful that the data will be conclusive by June that the vaccine is ready to be tested on humans.

However, Bell notes that the safety of the human test subjects is the team's top priority.

"I think we've got reason to believe that the efficacy, the efficacy of the vaccine in terms of generating strong antibody responses is probably going to be OK. The real question is whether the safety profile's going to be fine. So that's actually the main focus of the clinical studies," he said.

Even if Bell's prediction that the key milestone will be reached by June holds true, that doesn't necessarily mean that a vaccine will be deployed for widespread use in humans at that time.

Further, Bell echoed a sentiment previously expressed by Bill Gates: namely, that developing the vaccine would be a wasted effort if it's only deployed in countries that can afford to pay for it. As reported by The Inquisitr, Gates, like Bell, is hopeful a vaccine will be developed soon. However, manufacturing, distributing, and injecting the vaccine is a process that's going to cost money, and he, like Bell, is concerned that governments and citizens of poorer countries might be left behind.