18 September 2023
- First clinical trial participants received vaccinations last week in Liverpool.
- UK trial is next step in the development of a vaccine to protect people against MERS – a deadly viral illness with no current vaccines and the potential to cause a pandemic.
- Vaccine developed by Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert uses same ChAdOx1 platform technology as Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
A new clinical trial to find a vaccine to protect people against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) launched last week (Friday 15 September 2023).
This is the third Phase I clinical trial of the ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Institute. It is the first trial in older people.
MERS is a viral illness caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – from the same viral family as COVID-19 – with no approved vaccines or treatments currently available. Outbreaks can start when the virus spreads from camels to humans, with up to a third of all infections proving fatal.*
First identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, previous outbreaks have occurred in the Middle East and South Korea, with a case reported in Abu Dhabi in July 2023 and cases from the past year in Saudi Arabia reported in August 2023. The World Health Organization recognises MERS as a priority infectious disease that requires urgent research to develop vaccines.
The University of Oxford started to develop a vaccine against MERS using the ChAdOx1 platform before the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was this research that paved the way for such rapid development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in 2020, which has saved an estimated 6 million lives worldwide. This underlines the need for continued global funding and focus on vaccine development for lesser-known diseases.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert at the University of Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Institute and developer of the ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine said: “This trial is an important step in the development of a vaccine against MERS coronavirus.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had already tested our ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine in young adults in the UK and Saudi Arabia. Those trials provided information that was critical for the rapid development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are now returning to the task of developing a vaccine against MERS, and for the first time will test it in older adults, which is the age group most in need of protection against this life-threatening virus.”
Eighty-four people aged 50 to 70 will participate in the trial in Liverpool, which follows two previous Phase I clinical trials in the UK and Saudi Arabia.
These trials found the vaccine generated a strong immune response against MERS after one dose and was well tolerated by healthy volunteers aged 18 to 50. This trial will build on earlier results and will examine vaccine safety and immune responses in older people, after one and two doses of the vaccine.
The trial is led by the University of Oxford’s Oxford Vaccine Group, funded by CEPI, and delivered by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Liverpool University Hospitals NIHR Liverpool Clinical Research Facility at Royal Liverpool University Hospital. Vaccitech plc retains commercialisation rights to ChAdOx1 MERS and is collaborating with the University of Oxford and CEPI to develop the vaccine.
Dr Melanie Saville, Executive Director of Vaccine Research & Development at CEPI, funders of the trial, said: “The world continues to bear witness to the grave danger and devastation that coronavirus threats can bring through the COVID-19 pandemic – and its deadlier viral cousin MERS remains of regional and global concern as highlighted by recent cases in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
“This latest Phase I trial of Oxford’s MERS vaccine, developed on the ChAdOx1 platform – one of only a few clinically validated rapid-response platforms globally – is of particular importance as the findings will provide critical guidance on how we can better protect vulnerable communities from the health and socioeconomic impact of this deadly pathogen.”
Dr Andrea Collins, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and trial Principal Investigator said: “We are excited at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to deliver this Phase I clinical trial. We have already recruited thousands of participants into infectious disease and vaccination clinical trials, and we have a database of amazing volunteers in Liverpool stepping forward to participate just like they did during the COVID-19 pandemic. We couldn’t do this without them, so thank you to every one of them.”
Professor Maheshi Ramasamy, Clinician Scientist at the Oxford Vaccine Group and the trial’s Chief Investigator said: “MERS has a higher fatality rate than COVID-19 and we don’t yet have effective treatments or vaccines for it. This trial is an exciting opportunity to build on our partnership with Liverpool, developed during the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trials, to investigate a promising vaccine against another potentially lethal coronavirus.”
Notes to Editors:
For more information about the vaccine or trial contact Sarah Nelson, Head of Communications at University of Oxford’s Pandemic Sciences Institute: firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 (0)7812 152044.
Images of the first participants can be downloaded for use here: MERS Vaccine Trial Images (Google Drive).
- The Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford is a research institute with a mission to discover, create and enable practical solutions to infectious disease threats worldwide. The Institute is hosted by the University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine. Visit our website and Follow us on X (formerly Twitter).
- The Oxford Vaccine Group (OVG) designs and conducts studies of new and improved vaccines for children and adults around the world and is based in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Oxford. Visit our website and follow us on X.
- Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) is the world's oldest centre of excellence in tropical medicine and international public health. It has been engaged in the fight against infectious, debilitating and disabling diseases since 1898 and continues that tradition today with a research portfolio over £320 million and a teaching programme attracting students from over 65 countries. www.lstmed.ac.uk
- The NHIR Liverpool Clinical Research Facility is an MHRA Phase 1 Accredited site with purpose-built facilities, embedded within the Royal Liverpool Hospital. The facility also provides specialist equipment, 24-hour emergency coverage and access to ITU. The CRF offers a safe and regulated environment to perform clinical research trials to the highest possible standards. Follow us on X (Twitter)
- CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched in 2017, to develop vaccines against future epidemics. Its mission is to accelerate the development of vaccines and other biologic countermeasures against epidemic and pandemic threats so they can be accessible to all people in need. https://cepi.net
- Vaccitech is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel T cell immunotherapeutics that harness the power of the immune system to prevent, treat and cure chronic infectious diseases, cancer and autoimmunity. www.vaccitech.co.uk
About the trial
- The first two clinical trials of the ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine took place in the UK and Saudi Arabia between 2018 and 2020. These trials found the vaccine generated a strong immune response against MERS and was well tolerated by healthy volunteers aged 18 to 50, information that was crucial in developing a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 in 2020.
- This trial will build on earlier results and will examine vaccine safety and immune responses in an older population. The trial will be the first to enrol older people (aged 50 to 70), who are more representative of the population that is most at risk of severe illness from MERS.
- The trial is being led by Oxford Vaccine Group and delivered by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Liverpool University Hospitals NIHR Liverpool Clinical Research Facility at Royal Liverpool University Hospital.
- Eighty-four individuals will volunteer to take part, and these will be randomised to receive either two doses of ChAdOx1 MERS or two doses of a placebo, 12 weeks apart.
- In 2019, CEPI signed a contract with the University of Oxford for up to $19 million to advance the development and manufacture of a MERS vaccine, as well as preclinical vaccine development work on two other global health threats, Lassa fever and Nipah.
- For more information about the previous clinical trials, see:
- Safety and immunogenicity of a candidate Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus viral-vectored vaccine: a dose-escalation, open-label, non-randomised, uncontrolled, phase 1 trial
- Safety and immunogenicity of ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine candidate in healthy Middle Eastern adults (MERS002): an open-label, non-randomised, dose-escalation, phase 1b trial
About the ChAdOx1 MERS vaccine
- The vaccine uses the same adenovirus vector as the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to deliver the instructions to make the MERS spike protein after vaccination, leading to an immune response against the spike protein.
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a zoonotic virus transferred to humans from infected camels. It is a coronavirus, in the same family as SARS CoV-1 and SARS CoV-2.
- MERS-CoV was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has now caused outbreaks in the Middle East and South Korea. In total, 27 countries have reported 2,614 cases since 2012, including 945 deaths. Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
- Infections with MERS-CoV can cause a range of symptoms, from asymptomatic or mild respiratory symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease and death. It particularly affects people who are older, with weakened immune systems or with underlying health conditions. So far, 35% of cases have been fatal (*although this is undoubtedly an overstatement as mild cases may not be picked up). Source: World Health Organization