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It can be hard to see past coronavirus headlines about mounting death tolls and doubts over whether or not a successful vaccine can actually be developed, but as the crisis continues, scientists’ efforts to understand and tackle Covid-19 continue to mount up.
Though much emphasis has been placed on the role of the vaccine when it comes to easing the lockdown, researchers are also looking to study antibodies and experimental treatments in order to help the nation overcome the virus.
Here are four of the advancements in research we’ve seen in the UK over the past week:
1. Human trials of vaccine are set to begin in Oxford and Southampton
Trials of a vaccine that could protect against Covid-19 are to begin in the UK, it was revealed on Sunday, a day after it emerged that a potential vaccine was trialled on a human subject for the first time on Thursday.
Work on the vaccine, developed by clinical teams at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, began in January.
Now a study involving up to 510 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 is set to get under way.
The UK now joins only the US – with two studies – and China in beginning human trials.
Professor Saul Faust, director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Southampton, said: “There are not currently any licensed vaccines or specific treatments for Covid-19 but vaccines are the most effective way of controlling outbreaks and the international community has stepped up efforts towards developing one.
“This vaccine aims to turn the virus’ most potent weapon, its spikes, against it – raising antibodies that stick to them allowing the immune system to lock on to and destroy the virus.”
It is called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Production has already been scaled up pre-trial to prepare as early as possible for larger trials and potential future deployment.
The news came a day after Sir John Bell, a member of the government’s vaccine task force, told the Today programme: “It went into man, I think, on Thursday. It was the first test of testing it in a human being.”
2. An appeal for Covid-19 survivors to donate blood plasma to NHS was released
On Friday it emerged that coronavirus survivors were being asked to donate blood plasma in the hope that transfusions will eventually help those fighting the disease.
The NHS Blood and Transplant Service (NHSBT) is appealing to those who are recovering from Covid-19 to give convalescent plasma which contains antibodies which stop the virus growing.
The number of the helpful antibodies rises steadily in the blood stream of those who have been ill and is thought to peak between 21 and 28 days after recovery, according to the NHS.
For now, donations will be used in clinical trials but the hope is that in future they could be used by doctors treating those suffering with the disease.
Donors must have tested positive for the illness either at home or in hospital, but should now be three to four weeks into their recovery, ideally 29 days.
According to an email sent by NHSBT, plasma can be taken by a machine similar to those used in regular platelet donation.
A donation session will take around 45 minutes to give two units of plasma, and can be repeated as regularly as every fortnight.
Anybody who gives will have to temporarily stop any usual blood or platelet donations.
3. A UK vaccine task force to ‘accelerate’ research was launched by the government
During Friday’s Downing Street press conference business secretary Alok Sharma announced a new task force, designed to “rapidly accelerate” the creation of a vaccine and make it “widely available to patients as soon as possible”.
The taskforce, which ministers said will bring together government and private business, will be led by chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said the government was “working flat out with businesses, researchers and industry to find a vaccine as quickly as possible”.
“The UK is world-leading in developing vaccines. We are the biggest contributor to the global effort – and preparing to ensure we can manufacture vaccines here at home as soon as practically possible,” he said.
4. More than 100 coronavirus patients in Scotland started experimental treatments
More than 100 coronavirus patients across the NHS NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area have started to receive potential treatments for the disease, it was revealed earlier this week.
The experimental clinical trial, named RECOVERY, is one of the fastest programmes looking at such a treatment.
All patients with Covid-19 being treated at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Inverclyde Royal Hospital and Royal Alexandra Hospital are being offered a place on the trial.
The randomised-controlled trial has so far involved 120 patients being given an active drug or standard care including steroids, antivirals and antimalarial agents.
Dr Jennifer Armstrong, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) medical director, welcomed the move saying: “Our teams have been incredible in rising up to the challenge of Covid-19.
“Not just in the care and treatment of patients but also their dedication to improving our knowledge of the virus through clinical trials.
“This means our patients are receiving the most up to date treatment available.”
Charles Weller, general manager at NHS Research Scotland, said: “RECOVERY has been the fastest growing clinical trial in medical history – and a crucial part of our efforts to better understand and tackle Covid-19.
“I want to thank all teams for their commitment and professionalism to this national priority study.”