(Australian Associated Press)
A potential COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising signs it can fight off the deadly virus.
Mice were injected with the vaccine and observed by University of Queensland researchers to see if their immune system would respond.
Early results show the vaccine can produce an immune response in excess of what human patients have had to do to beat the virus.
Samples taken from the mice were studied for antibodies specifically targeted to kill the virus, UQ Professor Trent Munro explained.
“The levels of those antibodies that we think we have, and the level of neutralising activity, look to even exceed the levels we find in patients who have recovered from COVID,” Professor Munro said.
He is program director at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a non-profit organisation working to develop vaccines against emerging infections.
Of the more than 100 vaccines in development around the world, up to 20 – including the one at UQ – are advancing.
Questions still remain around how long the vaccine could provide protection, and what happens to someone who recovers and is infected again.
But what comes next is crucial.
Animals enclosed in a high security lab in the Netherlands will now be given a dose of the vaccine to trigger an immune response.
They will then be injected with COVID-19 to test if they are protected against it.
That process takes six-to-eight weeks, with Mr Munro’s team hopeful of moving into the production phase by September.
“That’s the goal we’ve been working to,” he added.
Their sole aim is to scale up and produce as many doses of the vaccine as they can, amid whispered concerns a vaccine could be futile if COVID-19 mutates.
However joint UQ project leader Dr Keith Chappell says that’s unlikely because it is different to the flu virus.
“This virus has a proof-reading enzyme so it does not evolve nearly as quickly as something like flu,” he said.
The Queensland team believes they could offer broad protection against current strains and those that emerge in future.
“We’re not aiming to protect every single person that ever gets the vaccine,” Dr Chappell said.
“But even if we can protect a handful, eight out of 10, that’s a huge impact that prevents the circulation of the virus within the community and is key to the world recovering.”
Once final results from pre-clinical tests are in, clinical trials can start.