Scientists race to develop vaccine for new coronavirus

Published February 9, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Agence France-Presse

SINGAPORE — Scientists from the United States to Australia are using new technology in an ambitious, multi-million-dollar drive to develop a vaccine in record time to tackle China’s coronavirus outbreak.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus that emerged in China late last year (AFP/File / STR, STR / MANILA BULLETIN)
Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus that emerged in China late last year (AFP/File / STR, STR / MANILA BULLETIN)

The new virus has spread rapidly since emerging late last year in China, killing more than 800 people in the mainland and infecting over 37,000. Cases have been reported in two dozen other countries.

Coming up with any vaccine typi­cally takes years, and involves a lengthy process of testing on animals, clinical trials on humans, and regula­tory approvals.

But several teams of experts are racing to develop one quicker, backed by an international co­SINGAPORE (AFP) — Scientists from the United States to Australia are using new technology in an ambitious, multi-million-dollar drive to develop a vaccine in record time to tackle China’s coronavirus outbreak.

The new virus has spread rapidly since emerging late last year in China, killing more than 800 people in the mainland and infecting over 37,000. Cases have been reported in two dozen other countries.

Coming up with any vaccine typi­cally takes years, and involves a lengthy process of testing on animals, clinical trials on humans, and regula­tory approvals.

But several teams of experts are racing to develop one quicker, backed by an international co­alition that aims to combat emerging diseases, and Australian scientists hope their’s could be ready in six months.

“It is a high-pressure situation and there is a lot of weight on us,” said se­nior researcher Keith Chappell, part of the group from Australia’s University of Queensland.

But the scientist added he took “some solace” knowing several teams around the world were engaged in the same mission.

“The hope is that one of these will be successful and can contain this outbreak,” he said.

But even a timeframe of six months looks agonizingly slow with the virus, believed to have emerged from a mar­ket selling wild animals, killing close to 100 people every day in mainland China.

Efforts are being led by the Coali­tion for Epidemic Preparedness Inno­vations (CEPI), a body established in 2017 to finance costly biotechnology research in the wake of an Ebola out­break in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people.

With a mission to speed up the de­velopment of vaccines, CEPI is pouring millions of dollars into four projects around the world and has put out a call for more proposals.

Attack the virus

The projects hope to use new tech­nology to develop vaccines that can be tested in the near future.

The body’s CEO, Richard Hatchett, said the aim was to start clinical testing in just 16 weeks.

German biopharmaceutical com­pany CureVac and US-based Moderna Therapeutics are developing vaccines based on “messenger RNA” – instruc­tions that tell the body to produce proteins – while Inovio, another American firm, is using DNA-based technology.

DNA-and RNA-based vaccines use the genetic coding of the virus to trick the body’s cells into producing proteins identical to those on the surface of the pathogen, explained Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the emerging infec­tious diseases program at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

The immune system learns to rec­ognize the proteins so that it is ready to find and attack the virus when it enters the body.

The Australian researchers are using “molecular clamp” technology invented by the university’s scientists that allows them to rapidly develop new vaccines based solely on a virus DNA sequence.

French scientists at the Pasteur Institute are modifying the measles vaccine to work against the coronavi­rus, but do not expect it to be ready for about 20 months.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also started developing vaccines, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up measures to curb the spread of misinformation about the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respira­tory disease.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized the importance of knowing the actual facts about the novel coronavirus, say­ing that people must have “access to accurate information to protect them­selves and others.”

“While the virus spreads, mis­information makes the job of our heroic health workers even harder. It is diverting the attention of decision makers and it causes confusion and spreads fear to the general public, said Ghebreyesus in his opening remarks during a media briefing on Saturday which was broadcasted live at the WHO’s official Twitter page.

“At WHO, we’re not just battling the virus; we’re also battling the trolls and conspiracy theorists that push misinformation and undermine the outbreak response,” he added. (With a report from Analou de Vera)

READ MORE: WHO acts to stop misinformation about nCoV

 
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