Australia is on the brink of signing multi-million dollar agreements to purchase potential coronavirus vaccines even though the candidates have not yet passed clinical trials.
With more than 170 teams of researchers worldwide racing to find a vaccine, Australian officials are keen to secure access and a production license for Melbourne-based manufacturer CSL.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday two preliminary agreements had already been signed with vaccine candidate developers.
‘We have signed two nondisclosure agreements, which are effectively pre-contractual agreements indicating that we’re in highly advanced discussions with vaccine manufacturers,’ he said.
Mr Hunt said he was optimistic about the search for and ability to distribute a future vaccine.
‘There’s still no guarantee, but there is real progress,’ he said.
It is understood one of the agreements is with British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca for the University of Oxford’s adenovirus-based vaccine candidate that is now undergoing testing.
The potential vaccine may be secured as soon as the first half of next year with CSL able to mass produce batches within weeks.
There are hopes the vaccine could be ready for use by the start of 2021.
The University of Oxford and the drug company AstraZeneca are working on the experimental vaccine called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.
Thousands of people in the UK, United States, Brazil and South Africa have volunteered to take part in clinical trials, including musical legend Andrew-Lloyd Weber.
As recently as July 20, researchers announced the initial results of 1,077 people were promising, suggesting that the vaccine is both safe and triggers an immune response, according to the BBC.
The next stage in the vaccine trial is to expand it to thousands more people and to increase the dose.
If the human trials are successful, the supply pact would give CSL a licensing agreement to mass produce the vaccine.
Mr Hunt said Australia was talking to a number of foreign governments and drug companies about securing early access to potential coronavirus vaccines.
Worldwide there are 29 vaccine candidates undergoing clinical trials including seven in phase three human studies.
Three have been identified by Australia as promising.
Acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said Australia’s health advisory committee was ‘increasingly optimistic’ about vaccine candidate progress.
‘The recent publication in peer reviewed journals of several phase one and two vaccines, and the progression of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna candidates to phase three trials represents a key milestone in the development process,’ Professor Kelly said.
Mr Hunt said there were lead Australian candidates as well as international candidates.
‘We’re making significant progress,’ Mr Hunt said.
There has never before been a vaccine for a coronavirus however that does not mean that one will not be found for COVID-19.
Critics have raised concerns over the rapid pace of vaccine development, as under ordinary circumstances a vaccine candidate must go through many years of rigorous trials to make sure it is safe and effective.
Australian National University Medical School Professor Peter Collignon warned there was only a 50-50 chance of finding a candidate that’s 90 per cent effective.
‘You get a pretty good idea of safety in phase one and two, but what’s really important is efficacy, which you never know until phase three when you roll it out to tens of thousands of people,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
‘We’re going to vaccinate millions, in fact billions of people, so you need to make sure you’re onto a winner before you start mass producing doses.’
Dean of Health Sciences at Melbourne’s Swinburne University Professor Bruce Thompson has previously told Daily Mail Australia there was no guarantee even a working vaccine would be effective at suppressing the virus.
Mr Hunt said the government’s medical advice was that researchers worldwide had made progress so that a genuine vaccine was likely to be developed.
‘The question will be whether they are what are called full vaccines or partial vaccines. That hasn’t been determined yet,’ Mr Hunt said.
A full vaccine confers total immunity but a partial vaccine may only lessen the severity of symptoms.
Mr Hunt said any vaccine would be nationally funded for everyone in the country.