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New coronavirus sees drug developers scramble to develop a vaccine

Researchers work to combat emerging threat

Vaccine

With increasing numbers of confirmed cases of a new coronavirus raising concerns across the world, drug researchers and scientists are scrambling to develop a viable vaccine candidate.

The new infection – which is thought to have originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China – is a type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

In a statement yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”

It is believed that the virus was transmitted from animals to humans, with many of the first cases presenting in people who had regularly visited the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City, which sells live wild animals, including chickens, bats, rabbits and snakes.

Last week, the first death of a coronavirus patient outside Hubei was confirmed - the patient died in northern Hebei province and another death was also confirmed, this one in north-east Heilongjiang province. The province, which borders Russia, is more than 1,200 miles from Wuhan.

Cases have also now been identified in which the virus has spread between people, with Professor Peter Horby from the University of Oxford commenting: "It is crystal clear there is human-to-human transmission. The critical question is how transmissible it is."

As of 27 January, there have been 81 confirmed deaths caused by the virus and 2,827 confirmed cases, with 461 of those in critical condition, according to the BBC.

In response to the outbreak, director of the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci told CNN that "the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in the process of taking the first steps towards the development of a vaccine”.

In the US, biotech Moderna is working with federal researchers to leverage its mRNA vaccine technology to respond to the new coronavirus threat.

In a securities filing, the biotech company stated: “Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology could serve as a rapid and flexible platform that may be useful in responding to newly emerging viral threats, such as the novel coronavirus.

“While we have not previously tested this rapid response capability, Moderna confirms that we are working with NIH/NIAID/VRC on a potential vaccine response to the current public health emergency.”

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in the US are also working on a vaccine, according to vaccine scientist Peter Hotez.

“The lesson we've learned is coronavirus infections are serious and one of the newest and biggest global health threats," he said.

US biotech Novavas saw its shares spike after it told analysts that it is also working on a vaccine for the virus. Infectious disease start-up Vir Biotechnology has also brought out the antibodies in its labs that bind to coronavirus, which were collected after the SARS and MERS outbreaks.

German biotech CureVac, a company dedicated to the development of mRNA vaccines, is also working towards a coronavirus vaccine. The compay's chief technology officer, Mariola Fotin-Mleczek said: "We are currently in the process of producing a vaccine that, after successful preclinical tests, could be tested in humans in a clinical study – and we are investigating how to move this forward with our collaboration partner for such situations. From earlier preclinical work on another Coronavirus, we know that our mRNA vaccines are suitable to induce an immune response in animals for this type of viruses."

Although the early research and development is encouraging, developing a vaccine takes time, with Merck & Co’s Ebola vaccine taking years before it could eventually be widely administered.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

27th January 2020

From: Healthcare

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