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Coronavirus vaccine could be tested on animals 'next week'

RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 5, 2020: A passenger of an Ilyushin Il-76 plane travelling from the Chinese city of Wuhan. Two Ilyushin Il-76 planes of the Russian Aerospace Forces brought 144 Russian citizens to the Tyumen Region. The passengers are sent for quarantine to the Gradostroitel Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Video screen grab. Russian Defense Ministry/TASS (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry\TASS via Getty Images)

Soon after China’s coronavirus was discovered at the end of last year, scientists around the world have been working hard to develop a vaccine.

The previously unknown strain has spread well beyond its epicentre in the city Wuhan, reaching at least 25 countries.

China alone has reported more than 24,300 cases, with the death toll reaching 490 on Wednesday.

Health authorities have warned coronaviruses as a class have no “cure”, with prevention largely centred on hand washing and sneezing into tissues.

READ MORE: Coronavirus cannot be cured by drinking 'garlic water', experts stress

Scientists from Imperial College London claim, however, they are well on the way to developing a vaccine against the infection.

Animal studies could be initiated as soon as next week, with human trials taking place within the next few months if funding is secured, they add.

The BBC previously reported scientists started working on a jab within hours of the coronavirus being identified.

After being famously tight lipped about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak - another coronavirus - Chinese authorities reportedly released the new strain’s genetic code “very quickly”.

This has enabled scientists to determine where it came from, better allowing them to protect against it.

“Conventional approaches usually take at least two to three years before you even get to the clinic,” Professor Robin Shattock, from Imperial, told Sky News.

“We've gone from that sequence to generating a candidate in the laboratory in 14 days.

“We will have it in animal models by the beginning of next week”.

The scientists admit the vaccine will not be ready for this outbreak but could be up and running if the new coronavirus becomes a “pandemic” that “circulates around the world”.

With the virus virtually unheard of at the start of the year, little is known about whether it ebbs and flows, like seasonal flu.

Other experts are equally cautious.

“No manufacturer will be able to have a vaccine ready for the summer, or even by the autumn”, Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna Therapeutics - also developing a jab, previously said.

“The challenge is it could quickly be given to millions of people.

“The responsibility for its safety is therefore very important.”

Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday, Dr David Heymann - from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: “A vaccine is a long way off.

“There won’t be a vaccine for this outbreak but will be for other coronaviruses.”

He told Yahoo UK: “Animal studies will be a very important precursor to testing in humans.

“I will look forward to learning more as time progresses”.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 'could share 89% of its DNA with Sars' – supporting theory it started in bats

The team at Imperial are one of many racing to create a vaccine.

Moderna will send a version of a jab to the US National Institutes of Health for “phase I trials” as “soon as it is ready”, Yahoo UK reported.

These trials tend to be “small scale” to assess whether a jab is “safe in humans and what immune response it evokes”, according to the European Vaccine Initiative.

They are followed by phase II studies, which look at effectiveness against the infection, as well as safety, in greater depth.

Phase III trials involve analysing many hundreds of patients under “natural disease conditions”.

The vaccine may then be approved for use, with phase IV trials being “post-marketing surveillance”.

Another firm stepping up to the challenge is Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, which used DNA advances to develop a jab called INO-4800.

It plans to test this on humans within the next five to six months.

If successful, larger trials could be carried out in China by the end of the year, according to the company.

Its work is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), created after the Ebola outbreak that killed thousands.

Cepi is also backing the University of Queensland’s efforts to create a vaccine.

RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 5, 2020: Measuring the temperature of passengers of an Ilyushin Il-76 plane travelling from the Chinese city of Wuhan. Two Ilyushin Il-76 planes of the Russian Aerospace Forces brought 144 Russian citizens to the Tyumen Region. The passengers are sent for quarantine to the Gradostroitel Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Video screen grab. Russian Defense Ministry/TASS (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry\TASS via Getty Images)

Will a vaccine against the new coronavirus be ready soon enough?

No one can predict how the coronavirus outbreak will play out, with numbers rising nearly every day.

Mainland China had 278 confirmed cases on 20 January, according to John Hopkins University. Just four days later, this had climbed to 916.

Cases then increased exponentially, reaching 7,700 on 29 January, 11,200 on 31 January and 23,700 on 4 February.

While incidences are also on the rise in the rest of the world, numbers are creeping up far more slowly.

On January 20, four cases were confirmed in “other locations” outside of mainland China. This rose to 25 on 24 January and 105 on 29 January.

By the end of the month, there were 153 cases outside China, rising to 212 on 4 February.

READ MORE: Coronavirus may have infected seven times more people than reported, respected Lancet journal says

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) follows a similar vaccine development pipeline to the European Vaccines Initiative.

To speed things up, it can grant priority review applications and “Breakthrough Therapy” designation.

This was the case with Merck’s Ebola vaccine Ervebo, approved on 19 December last year.

The FDA “worked closely with the company and completed its evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of Ervebo in less than six months”, the body said.

Victims of the coronavirus are succumbing to pneumonia.

This is usually caused by bacteria, which tend to respond to antibiotics.

When a virus is to blame, pneumonia may be treated via “antiviral medication”, according to the American Lung Association.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned there is no specific treatment for coronaviruses.

Professor Peter Horby from the University of Oxford added there is “no effective antiviral” at the moment, with treatment being “supportive”.

What is the new coronavirus?

Like other coronaviruses, the new strain initially causes flu-like symptoms, such as breathlessness and fever.

Most of those who initially fell ill worked at or visited a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan.

China's National Health Commission confirmed the virus can spread person-to-person, via sneezing, coughing or shaking contaminated hands.

Fatal pneumonia comes about when a respiratory infection causes the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus, according to the American Lung Association.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream.

“Without treatment the end is inevitable,” said the charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

“Deaths occurs because of asphyxiation.”