First Australian human trials of potential coronavirus vaccine start in Melbourne

More than 100 volunteers in Melbourne and Brisbane have been lined up to take part in the first phase of a human trial of a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Three potential coronavirus vaccines at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland in March, 2020.

The Australian Government has inked deals for more possible novel coronavirus vaccines. Source: AAP

The first Australian human trials of a coronavirus vaccine are about to kick off with more than 100 volunteers.

The trials, which are being overseen by US biotechnology company Novavax, will take place in Melbourne and Brisbane with 131 healthy adults aged between 18 and 59 years.


Infectious diseases expert Dr Paul Griffin from Brisbane's Mater Health Services is one of the researchers overseeing the phase one clinical trials, which are the first step in human testing.

"It is very exciting," he told Nine's Today show on Tuesday.

"Healthy volunteers will receive this vaccine for the first time and it's predominantly about safety. So we will carefully monitor them throughout."

Apart from safety, the trials will give researchers initial clues about the effectiveness of the vaccine developed by Novavax.

Dr Nita Patel looks at a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in  Maryland on 20 March, 2020.
Dr Nita Patel looks at a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Maryland on 20 March, 2020. Source: Getty

Novavax expects to have some results to share in July and that could pave the way for phase two trials to look at the impact on people with coronavirus and side effects.

"We are, in parallel, making doses - making vaccines - in anticipation that we'll be able to show it's working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year," Novavax research head Dr Gregory Glenn told a virtual press conference in Melbourne from Novavax' headquarters in Maryland.

The Novavax trial involves a "recombinant" vaccine created by using genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in giant vats of insect cells in a laboratory.

Scientists extract and purify the protein and package it into virus-sized nanoparticles.

"So it is something almost the same as the surface of the virus but doesn't contain any live virus," Dr Griffin said.

"We hope that will then give these volunteers and people that receive this vaccine an immune response that will then protect them from this infection."

It's the same process Novavax used to create a nanoparticle flu vaccine that recently passed late-stage testing.

"Potentially, by the end of the year, there will be a significant number of doses available," Dr Griffin said.

About a dozen experimental vaccines are in the early stages of testing, or due to start, in China, the US and Europe.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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3 min read
Published 26 May 2020 at 9:44am