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Early-stage coronavirus vaccine trial begins in Singapore

/ 01:18 PM August 10, 2020

Around 100 people will take part in the trial of the Lunar-Cov19 vaccine developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and US pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics. The Straits Times/Asia News Network/CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE — The early-stage clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine has started in Singapore, with the first vaccinations expected to be given to volunteers this week.

Clinicians and researchers are now screening those who have stepped forward to ensure they are suitable for the trial, which is expected to last until October.

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The SingHealth Investigational Medicine Unit is administering the trial for the vaccine.

Called Lunar-Cov19, the vaccine is developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics.

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Associate Professor Jenny Low, deputy clinical and scientific director at the SingHealth unit, has told The Straits Times that more than 250 volunteers have stepped forward for the trial.

Around 100 people will take part in the trial. The volunteers are in their 20s to 50s.

“As the trial is open to volunteers from 21 to 80 years old, we continue to be on the lookout for more participants, especially those in the older age group,” she added.

Prof Low said the volunteer response for the vaccine trial has been encouraging.

“It shows that people are willing to contribute towards the advancement of science, even if the trial may not benefit them directly.”

A vaccine works by “showing” the immune system an important part of the virus and “training” it to recognize and remember a pathogen without exposing the patient to the risk of disease.

Traditional vaccines do this by injecting a killed or weakened form of the virus into the human body so that the immune system recognizes the invader and begins summoning its “soldiers” – antibodies and T-cells – to get rid of it.

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However, the Lunar-Cov19 vaccine involves a newer type of biotechnology.

The vaccine contains only fragments of the virus’ genetic material, instead of the whole virus.

When these viral genetic fragments enter the human cell after injection, the genome fragments commandeer the cell to begin producing the signature spike protein of the coronavirus.

This trains the body to recognize a key part of the virus – the spike protein – without exposing it to the whole virus.

Prof Low said the vaccine had shown promising pre-clinical results, and the next step would be to ensure it is safe, and that it can elicit a robust antibody and T-cell immunity in vaccinated individuals to confer long-lasting protection against Covid-19.

The early-stage clinical trial for the Lunar-Cov19 being conducted here is known in medical circles as a phase I/II trial.

Typically, a phase I vaccine trial involves a small number of subjects, usually fewer than 100.

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