The government is putting big bets on vaccines that may not work against the coronavirus, scientists have warned. Around 90% of experimental vaccines never reach the clinic because of problems in development or manufacture.But the government’s Vaccines Taskforce has invested more than £100m in COVID-19 vaccines being developed at Oxford University and Imperial College London.
A separate team at Nottingham University say their coronavirus vaccine prototype has considerable advantages, but has been overlooked.
Lindy Durrant, professor of cancer immunotherapy at the university, said the government should keep its options open in case other vaccines fail to work.
“Please give us some money,” she said. “We have an exciting approach. It could be the answer.”
Sky News was given exclusive access to the Biodiscovery Institute in Nottingham, where the vaccine – code-named SN11 – is being developed.
The prototype is a tiny – and harmless – gold bullet coated in DNA, which is fired under the skin by compressed gas.
First results from trials in mice show it provokes the immune system to make a high number of ‘”killer T-cells” that clear infections from the body.
“A T-cell can kill a virus very quickly and that’s what our technology is all about: potent killer T-cells,” said Professor Durrant.
The vaccine is being developed with the company Scancell. It uses the same technology in a highly effective vaccine against melanoma skin cancer.
Tumour cells are so similar to normal tissue that the immune system doesn’t recognise them as a threat.
But the vaccine generates T-cells that dramatically reduce the risk of patients relapsing.
Poulam Patel, professor of clinical oncology at Nottingham University, who led the clinical trials, said the success against cancer gave him confidence it would work against coronavirus.
He told Sky News: “Trying to find a vaccine against melanoma is a harder ask than a completely foreign invader.
“If it can do that for melanoma it’s more likely to do it for a virus.”
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