Northern Ireland plays its part in COVID-19 vaccine development
People in Northern Ireland have been playing their part in the development of a potential new COVID-19 vaccine as part of a UK-wide trial.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-supported Novavax Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial has achieved its recruitment target of 15,203 volunteers just two months after opening in the UK – including 482 participants from Northern Ireland.
This is the first COVID-19 vaccine trial to take place in Northern Ireland and the number recruited surpassed the original target of 350. Recruitment closed on Friday 27 November at its Belfast site, where staff have been working round the clock to reach the target.
The Novavax study is the largest double blind, placebo-controlled COVID-19 vaccine trial to be undertaken in the UK so far. The Belfast site is one of a number across the UK to host the trial, which is investigating the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of NVX-CoV2373 – a stable, prefusion protein antigen derived from the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus spike (S) protein and adjuvanted with Novavax’s proprietary Matrix‑M™.
A number of Health and Social Care and academic organisations and individuals have been working on this trial, including the Public Health Agency R&D Division, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, NI Clinical Research Facility, the NI Clinical Research Network, Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, involving medical staff, nursing staff from across Northern Ireland and physiotherapy students, community GPs and Belfast COVID Centre staff.
Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of HSC R&D Division Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “We are delighted that Northern Ireland has been able to play a part in this important global effort to find a vaccine to help protect people against COVID-19. It is important that these trials continue, despite the recent good news of the forthcoming vaccine roll-out once regulatory approval is received, so that we continue to develop a range of vaccines, some of which may be more beneficial for different patient groups.”
As well as HSC and academic volunteers, participants were drawn from the new Vaccine Research registry, a UK-wide initiative launched in July at the request of the Vaccine Taskforce, to encourage people to sign up to be approached to take part in a trial. Over 350,000 people across the UK answered this call, with almost 7,500 from Northern Ireland.
Dr Lindsay Broadbent, a vaccine trial volunteer, said: “Vaccines are an amazing invention and when I had the opportunity to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trial I was happy to volunteer. Taking part in a vaccine trial is a small way that I can contribute to the fight against COVID-19.”
Interim data from this event-driven trial are expected as soon as early 2021, although the timing depends on the overall COVID-19 rate. These data are expected to serve as the basis for licensure application in the UK, European Union and other countries.
The UK government has already secured 60 million doses of the Novavax NVX-CoV2373 vaccine, provided it meets standards on safety, effectiveness and quality following publication of results.
Professor Danny McAuley, Principal Investigator of the Novavax trial in Northern Ireland, praised the efforts of the Northern Ireland population: “An effective vaccine is one of the key approaches to help us deal with this pandemic. I am very grateful to all the study participants for helping find a vaccine for this disease.”
To sign-up to be contacted about COVID-19 vaccine trials visit www.nhs.uk/researchcontact. The registry is available to anyone aged 18 or over living in the UK.