The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified Trinity graduate Prof Adrian Hill and his team of researchers at Oxford as the “leading candidate” in the global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Irish Central has reported.
Prof Hill – who attended Trinity as an undergraduate and was elected a Scholar of medicine in 1978 – is the current director of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and is one of a team of five researchers working on the vaccine.
At a press conference last week, WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that “in terms of how advanced they are, the stage at which they are”, Hill’s team of researchers were “probably the leading candidate”, Irish Central reported.
Swaminathan said that the research team’s partner drug company AstraZeneca “has a global scope at the moment in terms of where they are doing and planning their trials”.
“It’s possible they will have results quite early”, she added.
Hill’s team told the New York Times in May that if the vaccine proved to be effective, the first few million doses could be available for administration by late September – at least several months ahead of any other research groups – should they receive emergency approval from regulators.
The vaccine has been tested on animals and is now in its second human trial in the UK where it has been administered to 6,000 people.
Hill’s team is using a technology that alters the genetic code of a similar virus so as to nullify its effect, before then adjusting it to mimic the coronavirus. When injected into the body, these harmless pathogens can induce the immune system to fight and kill the virus, thus providing protection.
The Jenner Institute’s coronavirus research emerged from Prof Hill’s work on a vaccine against malaria. Hill told the New York Times that he developed a fascination with malaria and other tropical diseases as a medical student in Trinity in the early 1980s, during which time he visited his uncle who was working in a hospital during the civil war in Zimbabwe.
“I came back wondering, ‘What do you see in these hospitals in England and Ireland? They don’t have any of these diseases’”, Prof Hill explained.
Hill has since built the Jenner Institute at Oxford into one of the largest non-profit research centres.