Health International

Coronavirus vaccine: Macaque monkey trial offers hope

Elisa Granato was the first volunteer to be injected in a human trial

A vaccine against coronavirus appears to have provided protection against the disease Covid-19 in six rhesus macaque monkeys.

It gives early hope for the vaccine, which is now undergoing human clinical trials.

There is no guarantee this result will translate to people, though.

A group of monkeys was exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The six animals that were vaccinated had less of the virus in their lungs and airways.

The trial took place in the US, involving researchers from the US government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) and from the University of Oxford.

The vaccine appeared to protect the animals against developing pneumonia.

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Rhesus macaques have similar immune systems to humans.

Promisingly, the animals also didn’t develop “immune-enhanced disease” – which BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh describes as a “theoretical risk”. That’s when the vaccine triggers a worse response to a disease.

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This response was seen in some early animal vaccine trials against SARS – another coronavirus – and proved a stumbling block in developing a vaccine for that disease.

The study hasn’t yet been reviewed by other scientists and formally published, but Prof Stephen Evans at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described it as “high quality” and “very encouraging”.

Meanwhile, trials in the UK on more than 1,000 human volunteers are currently taking place through the University of Oxford.

There are more than 100 experimental coronavirus vaccines currently being developed.

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