A coronavirus vaccine the University of Oxford is developing with AstraZeneca Plc showed promising results in early human testing, a sign of progress in the high-stakes pursuit of a shot to defeat the virus that has held the whole world in its deadly grip.
The vaccine increased levels of both protective neutralizing antibodies and immune T-cells that target the virus, according to the study organisers. The results were published Monday in The Lancet medical journal.
AstraZeneca shares rose as much as 10% in London but gave up much of gain to trade 0.6% higher as researchers cautioned that the results were preliminary. A positive outcome had been widely expected after reports last week lifted the stock, with the vaccine already in more advanced trials.
“We are seeing very good immune responses, not just on neutralising antibodies but of T-cells as well,” said Adrian Hill, head of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, in an interview. “We’re stimulating both arms of the immune system.”
The results will be closely scrutinised as governments around the world seek to end a pandemic that’s killed more than 600,000 people and triggered economic turmoil since erupting earlier this year.
Moderna Inc., another front-runner, released results last week from an early-stage test that showed its vaccine raised levels of antibodies that fight the virus.
Although stimulating production of neutralising antibodies doesn’t prove a vaccine will be effective, it’s considered an important early step in testing. Results from testing in animals had already shown the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot provoked an immune response.
Across the world, about 160 coronavirus vaccines are in various stages of development, according to the World Health Organization. The Oxford shot is close to the front of the pack and has already begun final-stage tests. AstraZeneca has said it may begin delivering doses to the U.K. as early as September.
“We want other companies to have vaccines that work as well because the world will get more vaccine sooner,” Hill said. “We just feel there is an advantage of having both arms of the immune system stimulated well.”
The British drug maker received a boost when the U.S. pledged as much as $1.2 billion toward development. Under its agreement with Astra, the U.S. could begin receiving supplies as early as October.
The U.K. has also struck a supply agreement for the shot, but on Monday it secured access to other drug makers’ experimental vaccines to hedge its bets and garner enough doses to cover its population of 66 million. The government secured deals with Pfizer Inc., BioNTech SE and Valneva SE.