High hopes for Covid-19 vaccine being tested in South Africa

Sygnia chief executive officer Magda Wierzycka says that there is a very high probability of a new Covid-19 vaccine being tested in South Africa being successful – though she says it will likely end up being an annual shot, not a once-off thing like the immunisation of smallpox.

Speaking in an interview on What’s Next with Aki Anastasiou, Wierzycka outlined how her investment firm, Sygnia, ended up being involved with the development of the vaccine.

The vaccine is being developed by Vaccitech, a spin-out company from the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, one of the oldest and most renowned vaccine research centres in the world.

The group is part-owned by Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), a firm that works in partnership with the university to transform its patents into viable businesses.

According to Wierzycka, Sygnia currently owns around 16% of OSI through an investment made a few years ago, giving the company a significant stake in the the development of the vaccine (though it does not stand to benefit financially from it, according to reports).

The Oxford vaccine is one of about 120 potential vaccines being developed by teams globally, but has taken the lead due to the university’s researchers having a head start on data.

Wierzycka said the researchers have been working on coronavirus-related vaccines for a while, particularly related the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus.

This enabled it to proceed to phase 2 testing quicker than other firms.

Phase 2 testing relates to human trials. Wierzycka said that this testing was already proceeding in the United States, the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

The University of Witwatersrand is working with the University of Oxford on the trial and marks South Africa’s first trial of a vaccine against Covid-19.

Named Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial, the South African study will be led by Witwatersrand University vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi. The trial will be performed at several sites across South Africa.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the University of the Witwatersrand’s Human Research Ethics Committee approved the study.

Wierzycka said that countries where cases are increasing rapidly like South Africa are prime for this research.

“They place a very high probability of this vaccine being successful – but it will be something like an annual shot, not a once-off thing like the smallpox vaccine,” she said.

Wierzycka said one worrying aspect of the virus is that it is already changing. “It’s not necessarily becoming more virulent, but the spikes (the make-up of the virus is changing). It means that we will have to keep evolving the vaccine.”

Researchers have noted that a viable vaccine could be completed by the end of the year.

You can watch the full interview below:

Read: Magda Wierzycka on the bright spots for South Africa

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High hopes for Covid-19 vaccine being tested in South Africa