Everything you need to know about Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine trial | Imperial News | Imperial College London

With trials now under way, get up to speed with the development and testing of Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine

As the first trials of Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate got underway in June, the team leading this pioneering work talk though the science of the vaccine and how they will find out whether it protects people from the disease.

In the video above, Professor Robin Shattock, Dr Katrina Pollock and Dr David Owen explain how the vaccine works, how it’s being trialled, and plans to help it reach populations around the world, if it proves to be effective in protecting people against COVID-19.

Here is everything you need to know about progress so far.

One of the fist participants receives the Imperial COVID-19 vaccine
Dr Katrina Pollock (right) with one of the first participants to receive the Imperial COVID-19 vaccine

Participants are now receiving the new vaccine

The first participants in London are now receiving the vaccine as part of the first phase of the trial, with a second booster dose to follow within four weeks. This will look at different doses of the vaccine, ensuring that it’s safe to trial in larger numbers of volunteers across the country later in 2020. Those later trials will help researchers understand whether the vaccine protects people from COVID-19.

It uses ground-breaking vaccine technology

The trials are the first test of a new ‘self-amplifying RNA’ vaccine technology developed by Professor Robin Shattock and his team at Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease.

Unlike many vaccines, it is completely synthetic and it isn’t made from real virus particles. Instead, it uses the genetic instructions for the surface protein of the virus that can’t cause disease on its own. It is this spiky protein that you see on illustrations of the virus; the crown, or corona, that gives the coronavirus its name.

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These RNA instructions are put it inside a fat droplet and injected into the muscle in your arm. It then instructs your cells to produce copies of that protein for a period of time, allowing your immune system to learn to recognise the virus’s surface spikes. It is hoped this will provide protection again COVID-19 if you come into contact with the coronavirus for real.

A little goes a long way

As the vaccine enlists the help of your own body to produce the spike proteins, only a very tiny dose is needed for each person. One litre of the Imperial COVID-19 vaccine could be used to vaccinate two million people. To produce that many doses with a conventional vaccine, you might need ten thousand litres.

Imperial's COVID-19 vaccine candidate
Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate

A new social enterprise will help ensure it’s available at an affordable price

If the vaccine proves to be safe and effective, people and populations in the UK and around the world will need access to it. To make sure this can happen at an affordable price, Imperial has set up a social enterprise, VacEquity Global Health. This will generate a modest revenue to help make sure the vaccine can continue to be produced for years to come, but it won’t be marketed as a high-value product.

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This new technology could help protect us from future outbreaks

The new technology behind this work will allow scientists to quickly develop new vaccines. As soon as the genetic code of new pathogens have been sequenced, scientists will be able to ‘plug in’ instructions for the equivalent of the coronavirus’s surface proteins, to create a new vaccine. This has the potential to revolutionise vaccine development and enable us to respond more quickly to changing or emerging diseases.

Research technicians Leon McFarlane and Jessica O'Hara working in Prof Robin Shattock's lab
Research technicians Leon McFarlane and Jessica O’Hara working in Prof Robin Shattock’s lab

This work has only been made possible by generous support

Imperial’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is being developed and trialled thanks to more than £41 million in funding from the UK government and a further £5 million in philanthropic donations. These generous donations come as part of a groundswell of support from the College’s alumni and donor community, which has seen hundreds pledge a gift to support Imperial’s COVID-19 response.


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Find out more about on our Department of Infectious Disease website


Photo credit: Thomas Angus / Imperial College London 



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