Coronavirus outbreak

Global efforts focus on vaccine development


Research institutes and companies from many countries have been at the centre of a scientific race to combat the novel coronavirus epidemic by pushing for the development of a vaccine, report agencies.

A research team at Oxford University's Jenner Institute is preparing to begin clinical testing of a novel coronavirus vaccine candidate, the university said in a statement released Friday. The vaccine is currently being produced at the university, and will be transferred to Italian manufacturer Advent Srl, which will initially produce 1,000 doses for the first clinical trials.

When developing the vaccine, the institute used the same approach it took when developing a vaccine against another coronavirus that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. "By using technology that is known to work well for another coronavirus vaccine, we are able to reduce the time taken to prepare for clinical trials," said Professor Sarah Gilbert of the Jenner Institute.

A microbiology lab at Imperial College London's Department of Infectious Disease is also developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. The biggest challenge of developing a vaccine is "the time to make it, show that it works and making (it) available in sufficient quantities that large populations can access it," said Robin Shattock, who is leading the Imperial College London team, adding that "China has done a heroic job in trying to contain the epidemic."

Meanwhile, a group of Chinese institutions have been stepping up their efforts for vaccine development. The Shanghai East Hospital of Tongji University and biotech company Stermirna Therapeutics have launched a program to develop an mRNA vaccine, saying that vaccine samples would be ready within 40 days.

Researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai are also making joint efforts on virus vaccine development with their U.S. counterparts from Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas Medical Branch and the New York Blood Center. In Washington D.C., a U.S. health official said Friday the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus is going well, with "no glitches."

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a news briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services that the U.S. health authority is working with biotech company Moderna to develop the vaccine. Fauci said one of the first steps that the vaccine development has to go through proved successful after researchers inserted the virus gene, published by their Chinese counterparts in a database, into Moderna's messenger RNA platform, allowing it to express proteins.

The next step is to put those proteins into a mouse model to induce immunogenicity, and if that continues, initial clinical trials to test the vaccine's safety in a small group of humans would kick off within two and a half months, according to Fauci. Other researchers and companies have been working to facilitate the rapid development of test for the novel coronavirus.

Co-Diagnostics, Inc., a U.S. molecular diagnostics company based in the state of Utah, announced Thursday that its research-use-only test for the virus is ready to be commercialized. The test could rapidly identify and verify the most optimal target on the virus genome for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay, the company said.

The announcement came after two weeks of design, development, and verification to ensure the PCR test's performance, the company said, adding the test's unique design would provide enhanced accuracy and efficiency when detecting the presence of the coronavirus.