What Wits University’s vaccine is expected to do during clinical trials

The science lesson behind how Wits University’s vaccine will work.

Wits University hopes the human body will develop an immune response to Covid-19 by using a weakened and non-replicating version of a common cold virus.

The Wits University team that will be having their first clinical trials hope their vaccine will develop antibodies that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and causing Covid -19. This is according to a statement released by the university, which also highlighted how it will work and details of the vaccine.

The statement said, “The technical name of the vaccine is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, as it is made from a virus called ChAdOx1, which is a weakened and non-replicating version of a common cold virus (adenovirus).”

The vaccine has been engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and was made by adding genetic material, called spike glycoprotein, that is expressed on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 to the ChAdOx1 virus.

“This spike glycoprotein is usually found on the surface of the novel coronavirus and is what gives the coronavirus its distinct spiky appearance. These spikes play an essential role in laying a path for infection by the coronavirus.”

Wits University announced the clinical trials in a virtual press conference on 23 June. A statement by the university stated the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial aims to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Director general of health in the National Department of Health Dr Sandile Buthelezi said,

“The National Department of Health is excited at the launch of this vaccine trial, which will go a long way to cement South Africa’s leadership in the scientific space. With Covid-19 infections increasing every day, the development of the vaccine will be the last solution in the long term, and we are fully behind the team leading this trial.”

By vaccinating volunteers with the vaccine, scientists hope to make the human body recognise and develop an immune response (i.e. develop antibodies) to the spike glycoprotein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and causing Covid-19.

Wits said that researchers have shown that antibodies produced against sections of the spike protein after natural infection are able to neutralise (kill) the virus when tested in the laboratory.

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