Scientists at the Rome-based Takis Biotech have tested the jab on mice and took the antibodies they made in response. The early results from the lab tests show the antibodies created could stop human cells being infected with COVID-19. Luigi Aurisicchio, chief executive at Takis Biotech, wants trials to begin later this year. He said: “As far as we know we are the first in the world so far to have demonstrated a neutralisation of the coronavirus by a vaccine.”
But the Italian tests are still weeks behind the UK, with a team at Oxford University already trialing a coronavirus vaccine on humans, with plans to have millions of doses available by September.
The scientists in Italy compared a single dose of five different vaccine candidates on mice at Spallanzani Hospital in the country’s capital, which involved injecting a small amount of cloned genetic code from coronavirus into the animals.
Researchers said each of the DNA-based vaccine candidates produced a “strong antibody response” against the virus in 14 days.
Antibodies were taken from the blood of the tested mice and then added to human cells that had been developed in a petri dish.
Scientists at Oxford University are already testing a coronavirus vaccine on humans
Scientists around the world are desperately searching for a vaccine
They were shown to be successful in preventing the virus from binding to, and subsequently infecting, the human cells.
Takis Biotech added two in particular were considered to be “the best candidates for a future clinical study”.
This week, Mr Aurisicchio was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying: “This is the most advanced stage of testing of a candidate vaccine created in Italy.
“According to Spallanzani Hospital, as far as we know we are the first in the world so far to have demonstrated a neutralisation of the coronavirus by a vaccine.
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“We expect this to happen in humans too.’
He is expecting tests on humans to begin “after this summer”.
Mr Aurisicchio also said if international institutions helped to fund the work, the testing process could be significantly accelerated.
In a statement released on April 10, Takis Biotech said the results were “extremely positive”, but the findings are yet to be made publicly available.
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The results from the vaccine tests have generally generated a positive response from infectious disease experts, but one warned the Italian team has a “long way to go”.
Dr Andrew Preston, who specialises in microbial pathogenesis and vaccines at the University of Bath, told MailOnline: “Any vaccine that has reached development would have shown a response in mice. It would be amazing if they didn’t.
“I’m sure that a vast majority of those projects would have produced the same effect.
“They have gone one step further to see if the antibodies have a function.
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“It appears they’ve taken antibodies from the mice, gone into the lab, grown human cells in dishes, added the virus with and without the antibodies and what they are claiming is that the antibodies stopped the virus from infecting the human cells.
“Chances are that is going to happen, but it’s a huge extrapolation to say that is what will happen in the course of infection in a human.”
Professor Adam Finn, of Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, added: “They have a way to go before they get into human trials – they are about in the same place as most vaccines.
“Vaccines already in human trials had already done the ground work with other versions of the same vaccine or just didn’t bother.”
Matt Hancock has played down the quick discovery of a vaccine
The World Health Organisation has stated there are at least eight vaccines currently under clinical evaluation, meaning their ability to prevent coronavirus has already been tested.
This includes the vaccine being developed by a team at Oxford University, the trial of which started on April 23.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged caution in the search for a successful vaccine.
He told Sky News on Wednesday: “If a vaccine can’t be found, then we have to learn to find a way to live with this virus.
“That means getting the numbers down and holding them down through, for instance, mass-scale testing and then tracing the virus through a combination of technology and human contact tracers.”
This is a breaking story. More to follow…