US company hopeful of UK trials for COVID-19 vaccine

US company hopeful of UK trials for COVID-19 vaccine
Senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the COVID 19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer, at a clinic in London. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 September 2020

US company hopeful of UK trials for COVID-19 vaccine

US company hopeful of UK trials for COVID-19 vaccine
  • Codagenix has pioneered fresh approach based on technology first discovered in 1950s
  • Permission could be granted by end of year

LONDON: An experiment has been proposed to take place in the UK that will see volunteers infected with a weakened form of COVID-19 in the hope that it could act as an effective vaccine.

The trial, the brainchild of US biotech company Codagenix, may receive permission to begin before the end of the year.

The theory behind the vaccine using an “attenuated” virus, engineered in a laboratory, stems from how COVID-19 uses pieces of genetic code, called codons, normally used by human cells to identify amino acids in order to build proteins, to trick the cells into helping the virus replicate inside a host.

Human cells cannot always efficiently identify codons, making it harder for the immune system to spot those used by COVID-19. 

Codagenix’s vaccine prototype will act in a similar fashion to the original COVID-19 virus, but will replicate at about a thousandth of the rate, which the company believes will help train the immune system to recognize the real thing when confronted with it, and trigger a broader immune response than through other vaccines. 

“We recode a portion of the virus’s genome so that it’s slowly translated by the human host,” said Codagenix CEO Robert Coleman.

The technique was first used in the 1950s by the scientist Albert Sabin, who used it to eventually develop the oral polio vaccine.

Codagenix believes that its version could end up being more effective, and more cost efficient, than other prototype vaccines currently in advanced trial stages worldwide, including the one being worked on by scientists at Oxford University in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

Codagenix has already held early-stage trials of a flu vaccine using the technique in humans without serious side-effects, and has partnered with the Serum Institute of India, among the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, to produce it should it prove a success.