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J&J begins search for a coronavirus vaccine as confirmed cases rise

Death toll has now reached 170, with 7,711 confirmed cases in China

Vaccine vial

Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson has begun the development a vaccine for the novel coronavirus which is now quickly becoming a global public health threat. 

The coronavirus – also known as 2019-nCoV – is believed to have originated from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan City, Hubei province of China.

According to the BBC, most of the confirmed cases involve people who are from Wuhan or who have had close contact with someone who had been there.

As of the 30th January, the death toll has reached at least 213, with almost 10,000 cases confirmed in China. The novel virus has also spread to 18 other countries, including Germany, France and now the UK – the first two cases have been confirmed by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England.

"The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread" Whitty said.

"We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately," he added.

In response to the rising fears surrounding the coronavirus, J&J will collaborate with other researchers and health authorities to screen a library of antiviral therapies against 2019-nCoV. This will included the identification of compounds that display antiviral activity against the coronavirus.

“We are collaborating with regulators, healthcare organisations, institutions and communities worldwide to help ensure our research platforms, existing science and outbreak expertise can be maximized to stem this public health threat,” said Paul Stoffels, vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at J&J.

J&J will use the same AdVac and PER.C6 technologies to upscale production of the optimal vaccine candidate – these same technologies were used in the development and manufacturing of the company’s Ebola vaccine.

The ‘multi-pronged’ approach will also include a review of known pathways in coronavirus pathophysiology, to determine whether previously tested medicines can be used to help patients survive the new infection and reduce the severity of the disease in non-lethal cases.

“This latest outbreak of a novel pathogen once again reinforces the importance of investing in preparedness, surveillance and response to ensure the world remains ahead of potential pandemic threats,” added Stoffels.

J&J has also provided 50 boxes containing tools for laboratory-based investigations to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes drug-screening for antiviral properties against 2019-nCoV.

The company has also donated 300 boxes of its HIV medication Prezcobix (darunavir/cobicistat) to the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University for research use.

This follows a recommendation from the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences for the investigation of 30 potentially effective compounds against 2019-nCoV, which includes darunavir – the protease inhibitor component of Prezcobix.

According to anecdotal evidence, a protease inhibitor has previously shown a potentially positive clinical response against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another type of coronavirus.

WHO response 

Today, the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus under the International Health Regulations will be reconvened by the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The committee is set to advise the director-general on whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), as well as the recommendations that should be made to manage it.

The director-general’s decision, as well as any recommendations made, will be made public following the committee meeting.

“We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated, including sharing data and genetic sequence of the virus,” Tedros said on Tuesday.

“WHO is working closely with the government on measures to understand the virus and limit transmission. WHO will keep working side-by-side with China and all other countries to protect health and keep people safe,” he added.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

30th January 2020

From: Research

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