Coronavirus | COVID-19 vaccine still possible this year: AstraZeneca

Drugs giant AstraZeneca on Thursday said a COVID-19 vaccine could still be available by as early as the end of the year, despite a randomised clinical trial being paused.

“We could still have a vaccine by the end of this year, early next year,” the U.K.-based company’s chief executive Pascal Soriot said in comments at a media event.

AstraZeneca announced on Wednesday it had “voluntarily paused” its trial of a drug developed alongside Oxford University after a U.K. volunteer developed an unexplained illness.

An independent committee was drafted in to review safety but the company said it was a “routine action” designed to maintain the integrity of the trials.

“We will be guided by this committee as to when the trials could restart, so that we can continue our work at the earliest opportunity,” Mr. Soriot said in a statement.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is one of nine around the world currently in late-stage Phase 3 trials.

In the U.S., the company began enrolling 30,000 volunteers across dozens of sites on August 31, and smaller groups are being tested in Brazil and elsewhere in South America.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, uses a weakened version of a common cold-causing adenovirus engineered to code for the spike protein that the novel coronavirus uses to invade cells.

After vaccination, this protein is produced inside the human body, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if the person is later infected.

The director of U.K. scientific research charity the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar, said there were often pauses in vaccine trials.

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Coronavirus | COVID-19 vaccine still possible this year: AstraZeneca