New study to test third COVID-19 vaccine for people with weakened immune systems

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A new clinical trial led by the Universities of Birmingham and Glasgow has launched in the UK to determine whether a third dose of vaccine will improve the immune response for people who have weakened immune systems.

The study, OCTAVE DUO, will offer people who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised a Pfizer, Moderna or Novavax vaccine to determine whether this will give a stronger immune response than two doses.

The £2.2 million study will build on the OCTAVE trial, which is being led by the University of Glasgow and co-ordinated by the University of Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit. The OCTAVE trial has published preliminary data today showing that 40% of people in the patient groups studied mounted a low serological immune response after two SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.  In addition to this, the initial data shows that approximately 11% of immunocompromised patients fail to generate any antibodies four weeks after two vaccines. Failure to generate antibodies is found at a higher proportion in some specific patient sub-groups; in particular, in patients with ANCA-Associated Vasculitis who have received Rituximab treatment.

The level of antibodies required for protection from COVID-19 is still not known, and it is likely that T cells also play an important role in protecting people from the virus. These findings therefore don’t provide a conclusive assessment of the protection vaccines offer people with weakened immune systems.

Up to 1,200 patients who are already involved in the OCTAVE study or those with other at-risk conditions involved in parallel studies will be recruited to the OCTAVE DUO trial.

The OCTAVE DUO study, co-funded by the government’s Vaccines Taskforce and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and led by the University of Glasgow and University of Birmingham, will analyse in detail the immune response of this group to the vaccine and the durability of this protection. It will also use healthcare records to determine whether any participants are later diagnosed with COVID-19.

Initial results are expected later this year to inform the UK’s COVID-19 vaccine deployment in these specific at-risk groups. The trial will follow the patients to mid-2022 and offer more detailed information at that stage about the immune responses that develop in these groups.

The government is carefully considering the findings of the OCTAVE trial and will also consider any further appropriate advice – including from the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) - for those who are immunosuppressed as part of regular reviews of the latest data and evidence on vaccine efficacy and effectiveness.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Vaccines have built a strong wall of defence in the UK and this is allowing most of us to learn to live safely with COVID-19.  We know some people may get less protection from the vaccine than others, so we are planning for a booster programme in the Autumn, prioritising those most at risk.  This new study will play an important role in helping to shape the deployment of future vaccines doses for these specific at-risk groups.”

Patients included in the OCTAVE DUO study are people with lymphoid malignancies, immune mediated inflammatory diseases (including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, vasculitis and inflammatory bowel disease), renal disease, solid tumours (including breast and lung cancers), haematopoietic stem-cell transplantation, hepatic and intestinal disease, and primary immune deficiency.

Professor Pam Kearns, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit which is co-ordinating both OCTAVE and OCTAVE DUO, said: “The pandemic has been particularly concerning for millions of people in the UK who have conditions or long term illnesses which place them at greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Together with our preliminary findings from OCTAVE, this new study will be instrumental in helping inform how best to vaccinate patients with chronic conditions, and protect them from COVID-19 infection in the future.”

Professor Iain McInnes, Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow who leads the OCTAVE and OCTAVE DUO studies, said: “It is hugely important for us to urgently understand the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in people who have immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, cancer, and diseases of the kidney or liver. Our first study to answer this question is the OCTAVE study which has shown that there is a group of patients who may not mount a sufficient immune response. We are pleased to now roll-out of the OCTAVE DUO trial, to investigate the effects of a third dose on this particular group of patients who have shown an undetectable or low vaccine response. We hope to provide answers to this very important unanswered question.”

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Scientist of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI, which co-funded the trial, said: “While most of us are relieved to be vaccinated to protect ourselves and those around us, today’s results investigating the outcome for people with immunosuppression will be of concern to the subset for whom the vaccine didn’t trigger a large protective response. This new study of giving third jabs to this group is critical research which we hope will demonstrate a much-needed immunity boost or identify those who could benefit from other interventions. One of the real strengths of the UK’s scientific response to the pandemic has been the way that we’ve assembled teams of experts to lead cutting-edge studies like this, to inform our vaccine roll-out and government decision-making in real time.”

Notes to editors:

  • To arrange media interviews journalists should please contact Emma McKinney, Media Relations Manager (Health Sciences), Press Office, University of Birmingham, Tel: +44 (0) 7815607157. (Please note: inquiries about participating in OCTAVE or OCTAVE DUO should not be directed to the press office). 
  • Further advice on vaccination, including on whether a third dose should be given to the immunocompromised, is not dependent on the OCTAVE DUO, the results of which are expected later this year.
  • Recruitment to the OCTAVE DUO study will be only from the cohort of people involved in the initial OCTAVE study, and similar studies. 
  • Hospital study sites that recruited patients for OCTAVE: QEH Birmingham, Glasgow, St James Leeds, Imperial London (Hammersmith), Oxford, Addenbrookes, Southampton, King's College London, Sheffield, St Georges London, Freeman Hospital.