(Adds details and background)
ISLAMABAD, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Pakistan has launched Phase III clinical trials for CanSino Biologics’ COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a government minister and an official at the Chinese pharmaceutical company said on Tuesday.
Pakistan gave the go-ahead for the country’s first Phase-III clinical trial in August for CanSino’s candidate, Ad5-nCoV, led by the government-run National Institute of Health (NIH) and pharmaceutical company AJM - the local representative of CanSino.
“Just launched the Phase III trials for a COVID-19 vaccine in Pakistan,” said the minister for planning, Asad Umar, who also oversees command and control operations headed by the country’s military to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
He said a total of 40,000 people across seven countries will participate in the trial, including up to 10,000 in Pakistan. Initial results are expected in four to six months, the minister said in a tweeted statement.
The trial began at a hospital in Islamabad, where 20-25 subjects were expected to be enrolled daily, and will expand to several other cities in the coming days, Hassan Abbas Zaheer, who is heading the trial for AJM, told Reuters.
“Our team is there and they have told us a lot of people have turned up to participate, and it is very encouraging,” Zaheer said.
Daily positive cases of the virus in Pakistan peaked at more than 6,000 in June but have since fallen sharply, with only 582 new cases confirmed on Tuesday - taking the total to 306,886 with 6,424 deaths.
The South Asian nation of 220 million has been carrying out between 20,000 and 36,000 tests daily.
The World Health Organization has said it appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to combat the virus, although analysts say the exact reasons for the steep drop in infections are yet to be determined in a country where the public pays scant regard to precautions.
Pakistan’s schools have started a phased reopening this month, with almost all sectors already back to business except for cinemas, theatres and swimming pools.
Wrting by Asif Shahzad, editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan