Tuesday 4 February 2020 4:52 AM UTC
LONDON: The UK government has donated 20 million pounds to produce a vaccine within six to eight weeks to combat the deadly new coronavirus that has claimed 362 deaths globally.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the money would help the UK lead the way in developing a new inoculation against the virus.
The coronavirus, officially called 2019-nCov, is reported to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
It comes as the death toll in China alone increased to 361 with the total number of cases there now above 17,000. A 44-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan died in the Philippines on Sunday, taking the death toll to 362.
Announcing the investment into stemming the spread of the virus, Hancock said: “Vaccines are our best defence against a host of deadly diseases, including coronavirus.
“The UK is a hub of world-leading and pioneering research, and it is vital that we lead the way in developing new vaccines to target global threats with scientists from across the world,” the BBC quoted the minister as saying.
The government’s 20 million pounds investment will go to CEPI – the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – a global body aiming to fast-track a vaccine within six to eight months.
CEPI chief executive Dr Richard Hatchett said such a tight timescale was “unprecedented”.
If the biologists are successful, more time would still be required to test the vaccine more widely and secure sign-off from medical regulators before it could be distributed across the world.
“This is an extremely ambitious timeline – indeed, it would be unprecedented in the field of vaccine development,” Dr Hatchett said.
“It is important to remember that even if we are successful – and there can be no guarantee – there will be further challenges to navigate before we can make vaccines more broadly available.”
The UK’s money will help fund the efforts of Dr Kate Broderick, a 42-year-old Scot based in California, who is working to create a coronavirus vaccine, the report said.
“We hope to get the final product into human testing by early summer,” Broderick, a molecular geneticist who works for the pharmaceutical company Inovio, said.
More than 17,000 cases have been confirmed and a small proportion of those – around 100 – have been identified outside China. The UK, US, Russia and Germany have all confirmed cases in recent days.
Latest figures from China’s National Health Commission on Monday showed that there were 21,558 suspected cases in the country and that 152,700 people are “under medical watch”.
Meanwhile 11 Britons flown back from Wuhan – the outbreak’s epicentre – have begun two weeks in quarantine.
The additional evacuees – who travelled from China via France – joined 83 people already in group isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral.
The coronavirus outbreak has been categorised as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, with cases confirmed in several countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan, as well as in the UK.
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