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Coronavirus: Australian scientists develop vaccine candidate

PB Jayakumar     February 22, 2020

Novel coronavirus: In a significant development in the fight against COVID-19 virus, a team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia has developed a vaccine candidate in the laboratory in just three weeks.

The vaccine candidate will move immediately into further development before formal pre-clinical testing. The proof-of-concept milestone comes after the project's announcement on January 24 as part of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) rapid response program, a University of Queensland newsletter said.

"There is still extensive testing to ensure that the vaccine candidate is safe and creates an effective immune response, but the technology and the dedication of these researchers means the first hurdle has been passed," said the University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Hoj AC. UQ is one of the three programs globally, and the only one in Australia, initiated by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), leveraging 'rapid response' platforms in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported on February 20 that the novel coronavirus illness has now infected nearly 75,000 people and the number of fatalities in China has doubled since February 11 from 1,016 to 2,118.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is partnering with Sanofi Pasteur and Johnson & Johnson to develop vaccines and therapeutics to use against COVID-19. The work will be done through a collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). Sanofi said it would be revisiting previous development work for a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) vaccine to examine a path for COVID-19 vaccine development. The vaccine will use a recombinant DNA platform to produce an exact genetic match to proteins found on the surface of the virus. Johnson & Johnson said it will also expand an existing partnership with BARDA via its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies to develop therapeutics for COVID-19.

CEPI, whose mission is to accelerate development of vaccines in epidemic situations, is also teaming up with pharmaceutical firm Inovio and the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, which is already working on a project to develop a DNA-based vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

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