THE PIRBRIGHT INSTITUTE, famous for its pioneering work in controlling poultry disease, is testing new vaccines that may one day offer humans protection from covid-19 coronavirus.

Pirbright has previously been granted patents for new vaccines to combat infectious bronchitis in poultry, another type of coronavirus that is not harmful to humans.

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Working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford and Public Health England, a team will begin testing new vaccines for their ability to induce protective antibodies against the virus.

The vaccines will include the chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1) which is soon to enter human phase I clinical trials and has been used to create vaccines for diseases like Ebola, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) and flu.

The vaccine candidates developed at Oxford will contain the spike protein from covid-19, the protein against which protective antibodies are generated in infected patients.

‘Preventing infection’

Pirbright scientists will measure the level of antibodies produced after vaccination of pigs and assess whether the antibodies can block SARS-CoV-2 from infecting cells, thereby preventing infection.

The pig immune system shares significant similarities to that of humans, so a good response to a vaccine in pigs will help to predict the success of vaccines for human use.

Researchers will also test the safety of the new vaccines and monitor whether any adverse effects are observed in the pigs.

This work will inform the development of vaccines that are both effective and safe for humans. If successful, the next step would be to begin human trials, although a useable vaccine is still many months away, the institute said.

‘Immune response’

Professor Bryan Charleston, director of The Pirbright Institute, said: “The ChAdOx1 vector vaccine developed by Oxford will be used in this SARS-CoV-2 vaccine research as it can generate a strong immune response with just a single dose.

“The vaccine vector is non-replicating which means it cannot cause ongoing infection in an individual, making it safer to use for those with underlying health conditions like diabetes.

“This approach has been used in other vaccines, and we are hopeful that this research will enable this vaccine to move into the next stage of human testing.”