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Pakistan: UHS to Test Australian Vaccine on COVID-19 Patients

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LAHORE– The University of Health Sciences (UHS) will test an Australian vaccine, dubbed COVAX-19, on active coronavirus patients after preliminary safety data from phase 1 trials on animals found it to be safe and successfully generate an immune response.

The announcement was made by UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram in a media briefing on Thursday. 

He said that that the randomized trial of the vaccine would be made involving 50 Covid-19 patients aged below 60.

“Twenty-five participants will receive two doses of the vaccine three weeks apart, and as many will be given a placebo(a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs)”, he said adding that the patients would then have blood tests to measure protective antibody and T-cell responses induced by the vaccine.

Earlier, addressing through video-link Adelaide’s Flinders University Prof. Nikolai Petrovsky said that COVAX-19 was made from a synthetic protein using a plant sugar, and was based on an earlier SARS-1 coronavirus vaccine that proved effective in animal models.

He said that the randomised trial was being conducted at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and involved 40 volunteers.

‘The subjects have had the vaccine, they’ve had no problems at all, and so that now allows us to move forward into much bigger studies to confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine,’ Prof. Petrovsky told the meeting attended by senior UHS faculty.

Prof. Javed Akram said that there was a whole lot of different groups in the community that behaved differently,  the elderly, the young children, the people with chronic disease.

“‘So basically we have to include all of these groups”, he added.

Prof. Petrovsky further said that COVAX-19 didn’t involve any viruses. “The vaccine is just a protein so it can’t hurt you, and that’s why it’s so safe”.

“‘We insert the gene for the spike protein from COVID-19 into insect cells that are grown in culture and secrete the synthetic protein into the broth in which the cells live. We then purify the protein from the broth to make it extremely pure and then mix this with some plant-based and synthetic sugars to make the vaccine”, he explained

Prof. Petrovsky says unlike the virus itself, the vaccine is designed to induce antibodies that ‘stay around for a long time’.

Prof. Javed Akram said there would be a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between UHS and Flinders University to test the vaccine on humans.  Jinnah Sindh Medical University Karachi would also be part of the agreement.

He further said that volunteers for vaccine testing would be enrolled in the next few days while the vaccine from Australia would reach Pakistan within two weeks.

Prof. Javed Akram told that approval would be sought from the National Bioethics Committee, Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan and other relevant bodies before testing began.  Other universities would also be welcomed to be part of the project.  He added that the vaccine would be given to corona patients in the form of intramuscular injections. Given the results of this pilot project, more patients would be vaccinated.

Responding to a question, UHS VC said that vaccine production on a commercial basis could start in three months.  Prof. Javed Akram further said that the nation should thank Allah for a decrease in the number of coronavirus cases.  To him smart lockdown, improved immunity and weather conditions could be the major reasons for the decline in cases. He termed Muharram as a major challenge with regards to the control of coronavirus and appealed to the people to exercise caution.— PRESS RELEASE