Italy kicked off human trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, joining a global effort to develop a response to the virus which has shown signs of resurging in Europe.
Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani institute, a hospital specializing in infectious diseases will conduct trials on 90 volunteers over the coming weeks, with the hope a vaccine may be available by spring of next year.
Francesco Vaia, health director of the Spallanzani hospital, told Reuters the first patient will be monitored for four hours before being allowed to go home where he will be kept under observation for 12 weeks.
"We will see if it produces any side effects and if it produces neutralizing antibodies," Vaia said, adding the second phase of testing will take place in countries with higher infection rates, like Mexico and Brazil.
"If we are able to be fast, we will have the first shots on the market next spring," Vaia added.
The potential vaccine, called GRAd-COV2, was developed by ReiThera, a company based in Rome. The Lazio region, around the Italian capital, said in a statement early trials, including on animals, had delivered positive results.
Potential vaccines are undergoing trials in a number of different countries including India, Britain, Russia and China, as scientists have raced to unpick the secrets of a virus that emerged less than a year ago.
"Our country's minds and research are at the service of the global challenge to defeat COVID," Health Minister Roberto Speranza wrote on Facebook announcing the start of the trial.
Italy, one of Europe's worst-hit countries with more than 35,000 deaths, saw the epidemic peak between March and April before the outbreak appeared to be on the retreat. But it has since seen a surge in new cases with more than 1,000 recorded on both Saturday and Sunday.
Other countries in Europe have seen even bigger jumps as tight restrictions and social distancing measures imposed earlier in the year have been eased.