Advanced trials of the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine developed by a team at Oxford University in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca are set to resume after being halted over fears that subjects might suffer adverse side effects.
AstraZeneca stopped trials in the UK, US, South Africa and Brazil after a patient was hospitalized with suspected transverse myelitis (TM), an inflammatory condition affecting the spinal cord. However, the patient in question is set to be released from hospital after examinations suggested she did not have the condition.
The company’s CEO Pascal Soriot said the delay had been “temporary” and that a panel of experts would investigate the situation.
“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials … in large clinical trials, illnesses will happen by chance and must be independently reviewed,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said.
Pauses in drug and vaccine trials are not unusual, and this is the second time the Oxford vaccine has had to be delayed because of unexplained illness. In July, AstraZeneca confirmed, trials were temporarily set back after a patient was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, in a development unrelated to the vaccine.
Early phases of the trial, including around 1,000 volunteers in the UK, have seen several side effects among subjects, including fatigue and headaches.
The Oxford project had been considered the frontrunner in the global quest to discover a viable vaccine for COVID-19, but some analysts now say that the delay could hand the initiative to a rival team.
US biotech firm Moderna and German company Biontech, in partnership with the US drugmaker Pfizer, are among those developing vaccines that have also reached the advanced trial stage.