AstraZeneca announced on Thursday (21 May) that it had “concluded the first agreements” to produce the University of Oxford’s potential coronavirus vaccine and plans to begin the first deliveries of the drug in September.
The company said it has already received more than $1bn from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to help produce the vaccine, and aims to conclude further deals to expand capacity over the next few months.
More than £6.5 billion from countries around the world has been pledged to help develop a vaccine and fund research into treatment, including £388 million from the UK, but health experts have warned that a coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be available before the end of the year.
But while a drug that has been proven to kill Covid-19 has yet to be found, there are more than 20 vaccines currently in development.
Here’s what you should know.
What vaccines are in development?
Several vaccines are currently in the process of being developed, with some drugs already being tested in humans, while others are moving closer to starting clinical trials.
Scientists in Australia have begun injecting ferrets with two potential vaccines, becoming the first comprehensive pre-clinical trial to move to the animal testing stage.
Researchers say they hope to move to the human testing stage by the end of April.
Elsewhere, the first human trial for a vaccine has started in Seattle in the US, with researchers opting to sidestep the usual process of conducting animal research first to test the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.
Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GSK have teamed up in the hope of making a vaccine available by the middle of next year, and are hoping to enter a candidate in clinical trials in the second half of this year.
Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine are also working on a fingertip-sized patch which could be a potential vaccine for coronavirus.
In China, CanSino Biologics has begun the second phase of testing its vaccine candidate, while a potential vaccine made by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Moderna Inc in America is moving along.
Tests such as these are being conducted at a much faster pace than usual, with some researchers taking a new approach to development.
However, even if tests prove successful, it is not expected a vaccine will be able to be mass produced until the second half of 2021.
What progress has been made in the UK?
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) has identified 115 Covid-19 vaccines at varying stages of development, with five of these now moved to clinical development.
A leading scientist who is working with a team at the University of Oxford said it will become clear if their potential coronavirus vaccine works by June, and promised the NHS would have access to it first.
The university has partnered with pharmaceutical giant AstraZenenca for the development, manufacture and large-scale distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, which is undergoing human trials at the university’s Jenner Insititute.
Hundreds of people volunteered to be part of the study, which receieved £20 million in government funding, and it is hoped some results from the trials will be available by mid-June.
Chief executive of AstraZeneca Pascal Soriot said the vaccine will be available in Britain from September, with people in the UK among the first to receive it.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Soriot said: "we have actually received an order from the British Government to supply 100 million doses of vaccine, and those will go to the British people.
"And there's no doubt, starting in September, we will start delivering these doses of vaccine to the British Government for vaccination."
Researchers at the University of Cambridge are also working on a potential vaccine, while doctors are also testing anti-viral drugs to see if they work against coronavirus.
Such trials are taking place in England and Scotland on a small number of patients with an anti-viral drug called remdesivir, which was originally developed as an Ebola drug.
However, the drug also appears to be effective against a variety of viruses.
Other studies on anti-malarial drugs called chloroquine are also taking place, as laboratory tests have shown it can kill the virus, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is not definitive evidence of its effectiveness.
When could a UK coronavirus vaccine be ready?
The team at Oxford University are hoping to have at least a million doses of the vaccine available by autumn, but need to ensure it can be manufactured at the required pace.
However, even with quick manufacturing, experts have warned it is unlikely any vaccine will be readily available by the end of the year.
Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the university, said the team probably has the "most ambitious scale up" programme of all the groups working on a vaccine.
He said: "We're now moving to the point where instead of doing maybe a three litre manufacturing run, we're up to 50 litres will go to 100, 200, maybe even 2000.
"And we're talking to manufacturers who can provide that sort of manufacturing service.
"The aim is to have at least a million doses by around about September, once you know the vaccine efficacy results.
"And then move even faster from there because it's pretty clear the world is going to need hundreds of millions of doses, ideally by the end of this year to end this pandemic, to let us out of lockdown.
"A vaccine is the exit strategy for this pandemic and then we're very likely to need a vaccine in future years because it's unlikely we'll be able to eradicate this virus."
Who would get the vaccine first?
The vaccine would be in limited supply once it is first developed, meaning it will likely be given to priority groups first.
This would most likely include healthcare workers and older people.
What if a vaccine is never found?
Despite researchers across the world working around the clock to develop a coronavirus vaccine, the Prime Minister has warned a drug may never be found.
Mr Johnson argued that the government needed to plan for a "worst-case scenario", in which scientists do not find a vaccine to inoculate against the virus.
While Mr Johnson acknowledged that the only feasible long-term solution for coping with coronavirus lies with a vaccine or drug-based treatment, he said it is vital a plan is put in place in the event such a treatment is never found.
In a 50-page document that details the government’s plan for lifting lockdown, the Prime Minister said: “While we hope for a breakthrough, hope is not a plan. A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away.
“Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine.
“So our plan must countenance a situation where we are in this, together, for the long haul, even while doing all we can to avoid that outcome.”
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