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New coronavirus vaccine trial starts this week in the UK

An illustration of SARS-CoV-2.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

A coronavirus vaccine candidate will be tested in a clinical trial in the United Kingdom  starting this week. The vaccine combines a weakened version of a common cold virus with genes coding for the coronavirus' lethal weapons: its spikes.

The vaccine will be administered to people starting on Thursday (April 22), British Health Minister Matt Hancock announced today (April 21), according to CNBC. The study will recruit up to 510 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 across multiple locations in the U.K., according to a statement.

Half the volunteers will be given the vaccine and the other half will be given a "control" vaccine which protects against meningitis and sepsis, according to the statement. The trial will last around 6 months, with an optional visit one year after vaccination. 

Related: 13 coronavirus myths busted by science 

The vaccine, developed by experts at the University of Oxford, is made up from a weakened version of a common cold virus called the adenovirus, taken from chimpanzees. The adenovirus has been genetically altered so that it can't replicate and grow in humans, according to the statement.

The researchers also combined the candidate vaccine with genes that code for the so-called "spike" proteins that the coronavirus uses to infect human cells. 

"This vaccine aims to turn the virus' most potent weapon, its spikes, against it — raising antibodies that stick to them allowing the immune system to lock onto and destroy the virus," Saul Faust, the director of the National Institute for Health Research's Southampton Clinical Research Facility at the University Hospital Southampton, said in the statement. In other words, the vaccine will prompt the immune system of someone exposed to SARS-CoV-2 to create antibodies that will latch onto these spike proteins and destroy the virus.

More than 70 COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The University of Oxford vaccine is one of four  currently in human trials, according to the statement. Even with an accelerated timeline, it could take up to 12 to 18 months to develop, test and approve a vaccine for public use, Live Science previously reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

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