Imperial College London Making some Power Moves as they Commence Internally Developed COVID-19 Vaccine & Launch ‘Social Enterprise’

Jun 25, 2020 | COVID-19, Imperial College London, News, RNA, Vaccines, VacEquity Global Health

Imperial College London Making some Power Moves as they Commence Internally Developed COVID-19 Vaccine & Launch ‘Social Enterprise’

Professor Robin Shattock and team at Imperial College London initiated an important COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial recently as they prepare to administer an investigational vaccine to approximately 300 people in the coming week. After this first phase, the next stage would include 6,000 participants. The self-amplifying RNA-based vaccine was developed in-house at Imperial College London. They have since set up a social enterprise with Morningside Ventures to develop and distribute an economical vaccine to the people of the world.

Everyday Heroes

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen in many parts of the world. In the meantime as many vaccines candidates come out of the labs a handful of leading candidates for commercialization are now in clinical trials and it takes volunteers to progress these critically important endeavors. In a recent BBC article on the Imperial College of London study led by Professor Shattock, its volunteers like Kathy that make medical progress possible. The BBC television showcases some of these volunteers. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, certainly appreciates what the study volunteers represent meeting with them at London’s Churchill Hospital. The prince told the volunteers, “It’s the most incredibly exciting and very welcome project that your all doing which is why it’s fascinating.”

Vaccine Development

Imperial College of London researchers first started evaluating a self-amplifying RNA vaccine candidate in animals at the COVID-19 pandemic really tool off in February. They noted upon administration that the investigational product delivered genetic instructions to muscle cells producing the ‘spike’ protein that exists on the novel coronavirus surface.  The idea was that this mechanism would “trigger an immune response” and trigger actual immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Imperial team undertook a round of animal studies (preclinical research) leading to the conclusion that the vaccine actually produced neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

RNA Trial at Imperial

The clinical trial at Imperial is based on this self-amplifying RNA vaccine candidate developed internally and again rigorously tested first on animals.  The vaccine involves synthetic strands of RNA which actually mimic the virus. As they enter the body via injection, the RNA actually self-amplifies making copies and directs the body’s own cells to produce copies of the spike protein found outside of the virus, reports Mr. Fergus Walsh with the BBC. The hope is that this new form of genetic instructions actually train the immune system to not only identify the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen but also to resist its onslaught. Medical correspondent Mr. Walsh reminds the reader as to a huge upside with the RNA-based approach: a minute amount of genetic code is all that is required for the vaccine under investigation at Imperial and “a little goes a very long way.”


In April, the UK government awarded Imperial £22.5 million to accelerate the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The government funding will also be used to support Phase II clinical trials and to prepare for a grander Phase III trial. In parallel, the Imperial team seeks additional philanthropic support for parallel studies around the world to not only expedite development but also ensure availability in low and middle-income countries.

VacEquity Global Health (VGH)

Imperial College London continues to push the effort to fight COVID-19 not only developing an innovative new form of vaccine but also developing a new social enterprise, supported by both the university and Morningside Ventures (money from the Chan family of Hong Kong) called VacEquity Global Health (VGH) to bring its COVID-19 vaccine to the world. Based on ground-breaking innovation, the developers believe the approach is highly scalable. Imperial and VGH will waive royalties and essentially ensure that those nations (And the UK) that don’t have sufficient economic wherewithal won’t get gouged on the open vaccine market. Hence, this social enterprise’s mission is to not only expedite the development of COVID-19 vaccines but also distribute them in a cost effective way around the world.

About Morningside

A leading global life science investor created by the Chan family of Hong Kong.  This name also is associated with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Lead Research/Investigator

Professor Robin Shattock is part of the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London. He also is the Chair in Mucosal infection and Immunity. Professor Shattock focuses on the mechanisms of mucosal infection and the development of novel preventative strategies appropriate to a developing world setting. This has led to the establishment of international collaborations aimed at preclinical identification, development and selection of HIV microbicide and vaccine candidates prior to formal clinical efficacy trial.

Call to Action: Funders interested in helping the low to middle-income countries access an economical vaccine should connect with VacEquity Global Health.


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