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Expanding vaccine research trials bolster combat of COVID-19

Years of NIHR investment in first-in-human trial expertise paid dividends at the height of the pandemic response. The NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility (CRF) launched a dedicated vaccine trials centre in a matter of days. In the following months, the CRF was critical to the rapid opening of long-term hubs that have underpinned the approval of vaccine and booster campaigns.

Key facts
  • The CRF team opened a phase I study of the Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine in less than a week

  • By August 2020, the site had involved 680 people in studies that helped underpin the licensing of the vaccine

  • This success formed the blueprint for the Wessex Vaccines Hub at the Royal South Hants Hospital and dedicated trials spaces in Bournemouth and Portsmouth

  • The Southampton team led the national third dose COV-BOOST trial. This provided results in time for the autumn COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign

Rapid set up of vaccine trials centre

Within the space of a week, a University of Southampton sports hall was converted to host a phase I study of the Oxford Vaccine Group ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine. The NIHR Southampton CRF team relocated dedicated first-in-human trials staff, equipment and safety systems away from their under-strain Trust.

The large, open building enabled socially distanced participant registration, screening and vaccination points. From this site, samples were delivered back to CRF laboratories for processing and analysis at Oxford.

By August 2020, the site had involved 680 people in studies that helped underpin the licensing of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. This included all the initial safety data for over-70s, alongside phase I data for several other vaccines in the national pipeline. Dedicated CRF communications drove over 5,000 public enquiries in the vital activities.

By the end of 2021 over two billion doses of the Oxford, AstraZeneca vaccine will have been delivered worldwide.

Providing a framework for long-term hubs

The trials’ strong relationships and collaborative working between CRF leadership, University and Trust executives were mirrored in the parallel establishment of the Wessex Vaccines Hub. This new initiative successfully engaged the region’s two Integrated Care System boards, NHS Trusts and Primary Care Networks.

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