Researchers working on a potential COVID-19 vaccine have announced that they are close to a breakthrough on an antibody treatment that could save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable.

According to British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, an injection of cloned antibodies which allows the body to counteract COVID-19 has the potential to be hugely significant for those in the early stages of infection.

The scientists from Oxford University are ’80 per cent confident’ that the COVID-19 vaccine works in younger people, and that the vaccine could be administered with a device similar to an asthma inhaler by July.

AstraZeneca has already begun manufacturing of the Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine, so should it pass human trials, there will be stock available by the autumn.

The news came in an online lecture for Oxford University’s Centre for Personalised Medicine given by team member Professor Adrian Hill.

He said that clinical trials will end when the vaccine has clearly been found to protect people.

“We are guessing that might be around about August time – it might be before if cases do not decline as quickly as we expect, or be later if we run out of cases,” he said.

The vaccine trials by the Oxford team began in April by recruiting 10,260 adults and 55 children. AstraZeneca has agreed to supply 100 million doses of the potential vaccine to the UK.

On Thursday 5 June, AstraZeneca signed a deal with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) for the manufacture of 300 million globally accessible doses of the vaccine being developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford

One member of the coalition is the Serum Institute of India, which is considering other partnerships with AstraZeneca that could lead to the antibody treatment being funded as a stand-alone treatment.

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said that the antibody treatment being developed is ‘a combination of two antibodies’ in an injected dose ‘because by having both you reduce the chance of resistance developing to one antibody’.

While antibody therapy is more expensive than vaccine production, Mr Soriot has stated that the former would be prioritised for the elderly and vulnerable ‘who may not be able to develop a good response to a vaccine’.

Trials of the potential vaccine have begun in Brazil, which has become a new epicentre of the pandemic, to ensure the study is properly tested as transmission rates decline in the UK.

The Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group started development on a vaccine in the new year, using a virus taken from chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, UK-based vaccine manufacturer Seqirus announced it is working in partnership with parent company CSL, CEPI and the University of Queensland to help develop a candidate COVID-19 vaccine in Australia.

Its manufacturing base in Liverpool is producing an adjuvant, an agent which improves the immune response of a vaccine.

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