NAYA| Woman of the Month: Sarah Gilbert, leading the team behind Oxford's vaccine effort
BEIRUT: As the race to corral the coronavirus pandemic took on even greater urgency, an experimental vaccine developed by the University of Oxford appeared to show promise.
The vaccine, which is currently being developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca along with Oxford University, induced an immune response in all study participants who received two doses without any worrisome side effects.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, a British vaccinologist and a professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and co-founder of Vaccitech, is leading the team behind the Oxford vaccine’s effort.
Gilbert, who is 58 and a mother of 21-year-old triplets, has been a part of Oxford’s vaccine community since 1994. She received her professorship in 2010 and has spent the past decade and a half working on novel influenza vaccinations.
Gilbert's work was one of two studies that offered fresh hope Monday for uncovering a potential vaccine for the virus.
"If our vaccine is effective it is a promising option as these types of vaccine can be manufactured at large scale," Gilbert told the British Broadcast Corporation as she works on the modified version of the ChAdOx1 vaccine (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) to counteract the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gilbert's team was awarded a £2·2 million grant from the UK's National Institute for Health Research and the UK Research and Innovation in March 2020. The award condenses their timelines in developing a vaccine and reduces a timeline of almost five years in normal conditions to three months.
Gilbert's early vaccine work at the University of Oxford started in 1994 with Adrian Hill, who today is Director of the Jenner Institute. Her initial work focused on malaria vaccine research, and, given her particular interest in cellular immunology, the importance of T-cell responses to parasite infection.
The ability to create recombinant viral vector vaccines is a core function of Gilbert's research group at the Jenner Institute, which over the past few years has progressed work on many vaccines, including those for influenza and Zika virus and early-stage trials for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus vaccine, a helpful template for the work on a COVID-19 vaccine.
The number of confirmed COVID19 infections worldwide has passed 14.6 million. Experts believe the pandemic’s true toll is much higher because of testing shortages and data collection issues.
It is possible a coronavirus vaccine will be proven effective before the end of the year, however, it will not be widely available. Health and care workers will be prioritized as will people who are deemed at high risk from COVID19 due to their age or medical conditions. Thus, widespread vaccination is likely to be, at the earliest, next year even if everything goes to plan.
Gilbert and her team give a glimmer of hope as their experimental coronavirus vaccine has shown in an early trial to prompt a protective immune response in hundreds of people.
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