UK team tests China virus vaccine on mice

UK team tests China virus vaccine on mice
Doctor Paul McKay poses for a photograph with bacteria containing fragments of coronavirus DNA.
London, Feb 11 (AFP) | Publish Date: 2/11/2020 11:56:44 AM IST

A team of British scientists believe they have become the first to start animal testing of a vaccine for the new coronavirus that has killed more than 900 people.

  Researchers at Imperial College London said their ultimate goal was to have an effective and safe way of halting the SARS-like strain’s spread by the end of the year.

“At the moment we have just put the vaccine that we’ve generated from these bacteria into mice,” Imperial College London researcher Paul McKay told AFP in an interview on Monday.

“We’re hoping that over the next few weeks we’ll be able to determine the response that we can see in those mice, in their blood, their antibody response to the coronavirus.” 

 Scientists across the world are racing to develop a way to stamp out a new strain of a well-known virus that has been successfully combatted in the past.

Britain’s has recorded eight cases and been forced to shut down two branches of a medical centre in the southeast city of Brighton where at least two staff members tested positive.

But coming up with a vaccine is a laborious process that usually involves years of animal testing and clinal trials on humans.

Regulators must then make sure that the vaccine is both sufficiently safe and effective to be mass produced. Imperial College London hopes that research on the SARS coronavirus nearly two decades ago can speed things up.

“We’re hoping to be the first to get this particular vaccine into human clinical trials, and that perhaps is our personal goal,” McKay said. “Once the phase one trial is complete -- which can take a few months to complete -- it can be immediately started into an efficacy trial in people, which will also take a few months to complete,” McKay added.

“So, perhaps by the end of this year there will be a viable tested vaccine that would be suitable for use in people.”  

 Much of the world’s current research into the new strain is being funded through the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

The group was formed at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos to help drug companies and universities join forces and stamp out dangerous and preventable diseases.

Imperial College London is not working with any of the current teams partnering with CEPI and requires its own sources of funding.

Its scientists hope that successful animal testing can help secure investments that allow clinical trials to start some time between June and August.

McKay said it would be unfair to say that the various universities and companies are competing to become the first to develop a vaccine. “There’s been so much cross-sharing with all of this information -- I mean the Chinese, as soon as the genome was sequenced, they shared it freely with everyone in the world,” he noted.

“So to put it in a competitive sense is probably not accurate. I would say that it’s a collaborative race.” 

WHO warns of ‘very grave’ global virus threat 

Geneva, Feb 11 (AFP): The head of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday warned the novel coronavirus was a “very grave threat” for the world as he opened a conference to combat the epidemic.

  “With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

Some 400 scientists will review how the virus is transmitted and possible vaccines at the two-day forum.

“What matters most is stopping the outbreak and saving lives. With your support, that’s what we can do together,” Tedros said.

The virus, first identified in China on December 31, has killed more than 1,000 people, infected over 42,000 and reached some 25 countries.

Participants will also discuss the source of the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and reached humans via another animal such as snakes or pangolins.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine against the virus, which can cause respiratory failure.

Tedros, who has repeatedly urged countries affected to share their data, called for global “solidarity”.

“That is especially true in relation to sharing of samples and sequences. To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity,” he said.

“We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed roadmap for research around which researchers and donors will align,” Tedros said.

Several companies and institutes in Australia, China, France, Germany and the United States are racing to develop a vaccine -- a process that normally takes years.

Asked whether scientists from Taiwan would be allowed to take part in this week’s Geneva conference, WHO officials said that they would do so but only online -- along with colleagues from other parts of China.

While the WHO does not deal with Taiwan directly and only recognises Beijing, Taiwan was often allowed to attend annual assemblies and sideline meetings as an observer.

But in recent years it has been frozen out as Beijing takes an increasingly combative stance towards democratic Taiwan, which it considers its own territory. 


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