The COVID-19 pandemic has led to medical breakthroughs that could change the way we treat many illnesses, according to Trinity Professor Luke O’Neill.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Professor O’Neill said the last two years have seen major discoveries about the immune system and medical treatments.
He said the knowledge could lead to a host of new products – much like the moon landing in the late 1960’s.
“The first one, most of all, is vaccines because these wonderful, new vaccines are so powerful,” he said.
“They are called genetic vaccines now because you are using the gene as opposed to the protein or the whole virus – and the mRNA vaccines are genetic in nature.
“Now, as we speak, there are vaccine trials running for HIV, malaria and several types of cancer using that technology.”
He said he is especially optimistic about the potential cancer vaccines – although he warned that the trials are still in their early days.
“The dream was always to vaccinate against cancer, so the immune system would kill the tumour,” he said.
“There was some evidence that might work in the past but now, using this mRNA technology, that dream is becoming more and more of a reality.”
He said COVID also saw major changes in the way clinical trials are carried out.
“With COVID, there was a thing called the recovery trial in the UK,” he said.
“They tested four different drugs at the same time against COVID using groups of patients and one of them worked – Dexamethasone you might remember, that is a steroid that was proven to work through that trial.
“They are called large simple trials. All you are measuring is, say, survival – something quite straight forward. In other words, they simplified the whole trial process down. Now they are wondering, well let’s make every trial like this.”
He said trialling more than one drug at once within simple parameters can significantly simplify the process.
“The trial is much quicker and cheaper,” he said. “At the moment, there is an obsession in trials to measure everything you can, with loads of data that might not be that useful and, if you have a simple end point, it can be done much more straightforwardly.
“Several companies have spotted this and they are now saying we need to reform the way we carry out clinical trials.”
He said COVID ensured that “necessity was the mother of invention” noting that there is now big talk of much quicker and cheaper trials.