Coronavirus: Scots scientist says vaccine trials set for next month

The Scottish scientist responsible for developing a global vaccine to combat the deadly coronavirus has said it will be available for clinical trials on humans next month.

Dr Kate Broderick, who is originally from Dunfermline, has been working with her team of researchers at pharmaceutical giant Inovio in San Diego, California, to develop a life-saving jab in six months.

However, last night she told The Scotsman her team were around three months ahead of schedule, having carried out successful tests on animals including rabbits, guinea pigs and primates.

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Dr Broderick, 42, who studied at Glasgow University before doing post-doctoral research at the University of California, said the speed at which the current vaccine had been developed was “unprecedented”.

The NHS 24 contact centre at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Glasgow which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited to meet staff supporting Scotland's public information response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

She said: “We were targeting early summer for the start of the first clinical trial and even on the basis of that timescale it was really fast.

“But we’ve been really lucky and we’re able to say now that we’re hoping to start that clinical trial in April.

“[That’s] approximately four months from when we first knew about the virus to getting this into human testing. So, that’s really quite an achievement on our part.”

Dr Broderick said the fastest her team at Inovio had made a vaccine in the past was seven months from sequence to patient for the Zika outbreak where children were born with neurological defects back in 2015.

They are aiming to make the Covid-19 vaccine available in the UK, but priority would be given to countries suffering the worst outbreaks.

She said: “We’re initially starting the trial in America and this is going to be on healthy volunteers – so people who do not have the virus. It’s not 100 per cent certain yet, but we’re going to be testing it on between 30 and 50 people.

“It will be at two sites in the US – one at the University of Pennsylvania and one in Kansas City. That’s going to be to check that the virus is safe and it’s giving the right type of immune response.

“We’re pretty confident that we’re not going to have a problem there because we’ve tested the vaccine so many times before, but this is just part of the process you have to go through.

“Immediately after the clinical trial in America we’re going to start a trial in South Korea and in China.

“The timescales depend on the authorities in both those countries, but we’re hoping to start a month after we start the trial in America.”

The move comes as the Scottish Government confirmed two new cases of coronavirus in Ayrshire and Grampian, taking the total in Scotland to three, after a person in Tayside was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Sunday evening.

Both the newly diagnosed patients are “clinically well and are receiving appropriate clinical care”, the Scottish Government said in a statement. One patient had recently travelled to northern Italy and the other had contact with a known positive case – but this was not with the Tayside patient.

It was also confirmed yesterday the first Scottish case was an employee of Food Standards Scotland.

Medics are gathering details of the places the patients have visited and people they have been in contact with and said those at risk of infection will be contacted by health protection teams for further advice.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman, who earlier revealed the outbreak had spread overnight, said: “Our first thoughts must be with the patients diagnosed with coronavirus, I wish them a full and speedy recovery.

“We expect the number of cases to rise and Scotland is well prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus.

“There is currently no treatment or vaccine, so early detection measures will continue to be vital in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said her thoughts were also with the patients and their families.

“Scotland is well-equipped to deal with infections of this kind,” she said.

“We have a proven track record of dealing with challenging health issues and have been preparing for this possibility since the beginning of the outbreak.

“We practise and prepare our response to disease outbreaks and follow tried and tested procedures, following the highest safety standards possible for the protection of NHS staff, patients and the public.”

The Scottish Government has warned up to 80 per cent of the population could become infected, with potentially 4 per cent of this group requiring hospital treatment.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Ms Freeman said: “Not all of those people will require hospital treatment at the same time.”

She said the Scottish Government was looking at capacity in the NHS and “what more we can do now in order to create additional headroom inside the health service”.

Consideration is also being given to how to increase capacity in areas of the NHS such as high oxygen therapy for patients, Ms Freeman said.

Meetings are also taking place with local government leaders at Cosla to see what can be done to ensure patients do not have to stay in hospital longer than is needed because they are waiting for care arrangements.

The health secretary said: “There is more that we need to do. We still have too many people not leaving at the point when the hospital has finished delivering clinical care.”

Meanwhile, residents at a sheltered housing complex in Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, were advised to stay in their homes overnight after a suspected case of coronavirus was discovered.

Chris Milburn, customer services director for site manager Hanover Scotland, said: “Yesterday afternoon, a resident at one of our developments in Ayrshire who had recently returned from south-east Asia reported feeling unwell.” The resident has been taken to hospital for tests.

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