Pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur have joined the race to develop and manufacture a viable coronavirus vaccine, and have begun the first stage of human trials.

According to the BBC, the two drug giants have enrolled 440 people for phase one and two testings of the vaccine candidate in the US to assess its safety.

The UK Government signed a deal with the companies in July for 60 million doses in the hopes that it will prove to a success. The deal is rumoured to have cost the government £500 million.

Jointly, GSK and Sanofi have the largest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world, and strongly believe their candidate has the ‘potential to overcome the pandemic’ which has already killed 863,000 people globally.

There are currently 34 vaccines going through clinical trials. The GSK/Sanofi candidate is based on existing DNA-based technology that Sanofi uses to produce its seasonal flu vaccine.

If all the vaccines ordered by the UK Government pass through trials successfully and are manufactured, then the country will have a stockpile of 340 million doses, enough for to provide everyone in the UK with five each.

Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines said: “This builds on the confidence shown by governments already in the potential of this protein-based adjuvanted vaccine candidate, which utilises established technology from both companies, and can be produced at scale by two of the leading vaccine manufacturers globally.”

The first phase of the trails is to ensure that that vaccine is safe. A small group of volunteers aged between 18 to 49 years of age will be vaccinated to establish the correct dosage.

The second phase assesses the efficacy of the vaccine, ensuring that it produced an immune response in the body, and this will involve older volunteers.

If and when trials reach the third phase, it will involve hundreds and maybe thousands of volunteers and will assess if the vaccine prevents people from catching the coronavirus.

The GSK/Sanofi vaccine works by recreating the viral spike protein found on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which infects human cells. The spike is what the coronavirus uses to bind with cells in the body to invade them.

The flu vaccine-based jab has been combined with GSK’s adjuvanted technology which enhances the body’s immune response. The adjuvant can reduce the amount of vaccine needed in each dose, which allows for quicker manufacturing time.

Roger Connor said: “We believe that this adjuvanted vaccine candidate has the potential to play a significant role in overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic, both in the UK and around the world.”

The government’s deal with GSK and Sanofi is one of many agreements made with pharmaceutical firms to make sure there will be a supply of a vaccine, but until clinical trials produce any results, it is yet unclear if people will be given the best-performing candidate or a combination of successful vaccines.

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