Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Suspension of vaccine trial not uncommon, says Professor Kenneth Mak

The recent suspension of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial following an unexplained illness in a trial volunteer is a safety measure and not an uncommon occurrence, said the Health Ministry’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak yesterday.

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical company announced the suspension yesterday, adding that the move was intended to give researchers time to examine safety data while maintaining the integrity of the trials.

Its vaccine, which is being developed with researchers from the University of Oxford, has been viewed as one of the world’s leading candidates.

Responding to queries about the incident at a virtual press conference yesterday, Associate Professor Mak, who is part of the multi-ministry task force fighting Covid-19 in Singapore, added that such an incident could occur “very easily” with any other vaccine.

“This is why we’ve always been sharing that the road towards vaccine development is long and can be difficult.

“Just because we have several vaccine candidates that have engaged in Phase III trials does not necessarily imply that we will have a vaccine ready for use in the immediate future,” he said, adding that the authorities here are waiting for more information before assessing the safety and efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

Prof Mak said that the authorities are engaging companies with the aim of bringing promising Covid-19 vaccines to Singapore in the future.

But he added: “We want to be sure that the vaccines we bring in will be safe, will be able to deliver on the promise that they have, and (that) they will be effective as well.”

He also highlighted attempts to produce a vaccine here, citing one that is being jointly developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics.

Known as Lunar-Cov19, the vaccine is currently in clinical trials, with the first group of local volunteers here dosed last month.

Worldwide, it is one of 34 candidate Covid-19 vaccines currently in clinical trials.

“We continue to wait for the results of these studies, and we look forward to promising vaccine candidates being developed and brought into commercial development and made available to the entire population,” said Prof Mak.

But Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was also at the press conference, cautioned: “It’s important for us to bear in mind that while we remain hopeful that a vaccine will come one day, in the meantime, we have to continue to be vigilant and ensure that our safe distancing measures are in place… We need everyone to work together to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe.”


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