UK COVID-19 vaccine to begin human trials this week

The Imperial team expects human trials to begin within 48 hours of them being approved. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 16 June 2020

UK COVID-19 vaccine to begin human trials this week

  • Imperial College team pioneering new technology that could cost as little as £3 per dose

LONDON: A team of UK scientists hopes to receive approval to begin human trials of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine this week.

The vaccine in question would harness new technology, which would mean it could be manufactured in large quantities with equipment bought off the shelf, and be relatively cheap to produce at just £3 ($3.76) per dose.
The UK government has given £18.5 million in funding toward research and trials of the vaccine, with £5 million more being donated from private sources.
The scientists, at Imperial College in London, said the new vaccine works by injecting a dose of approximately a thousandth of a thousandth of a gram of genetic material, called RNA, into the body, allowing it to begin multiplying.
The RNA would then cause human cells to begin producing a protein found on the surface of COVID-19 cells, in a large enough quantity to train the immune system to detect and neutralize the protein — enabling it to do the same if later infected with the virus itself.
Prof. Robin Shattock, the team’s leader and a mucosal infection specialist at Imperial College, said the amount of RNA required would mean that a liter of the vaccine could be enough to inoculate 200 million people.
“It really is a tiny dose,” he told The Times newspaper. “That’s very good from a safety point of view but also in terms of production — it makes it much easier to scale up.”
Animal trials conducted on mice have returned positive results, though the team cautioned that at least one booster might be required were the effects of the initial dose of the vaccine to prove insufficient.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The scientists, at Imperial College in London, said the new vaccine works by injecting a dose of approximately a thousandth of a thousandth of a gram of genetic material, called RNA, into the body, allowing it to begin multiplying.

• Prof. Robin Shattock, the team’s leader and a mucosal infection specialist at Imperial College, said the amount of RNA required would mean that a liter of the vaccine could be enough to inoculate 200 million people.

The Imperial team expects human trials to begin within 48 hours of them being approved. The first phase will involve 120 people, before a larger trial of 6,000 people begins based on initial findings.
“We already have money from the government to make 5 million doses — that would cover 2.5 million people. That is enough for the entire health service and for care home workers,” Shattock said.
“But we also have the capacity, should we be called upon, to make enough vaccine for all the adult population in the UK.”
If the vaccine passes the human trial stage, it is likely to be distributed worldwide by social enterprise company VacEquity Global Health, which has said it will waive royalty payments, supported by Imperial College and Morningside Ventures, a Hong Kong-based investment company.
Another vaccine being developed by a team at the University of Oxford is basing its design on a similar principle to the Imperial vaccine, but by using a benign virus as a host — running the risk of the vaccine causing immunity to the already harmless host virus rather than COVID-19.
The Oxford vaccine has already begun human trials, and if successful it will be mass produced and distributed across Europe by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which has already begun mass production in anticipation of its approval before the end of 2020.


Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.