Coronavirus 2019-nCoV: British researchers started testing an experimental vaccine in mice

With more than a thousand deaths now and more than 30 countries affected, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus epidemic continues to spread around the world, forcing virologists to work ever faster to stem the spread. Imperial College London recently announced that it has begun testing an experimental vaccine in mice. They hope to be able to develop a vaccine applicable to humans by the end of the year.

A team of British immunologists has started animal testing of a vaccine against the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV, which has already killed more than 1,360 people and has spread worldwide, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases. Researchers at Imperial College London said their ultimate goal was to have an effective and safe way to stop the spread of the virus strain by the end of the year.

“For the moment, we have just injected the vaccine that we have generated from bacteria in mice. We hope that over the next few weeks, we will be able to determine the response we can see in these mice, in their blood, ie their response in terms of antibodies to the coronavirus,” explains the researcher. Paul McKay.

Towards an effective vaccine available at the end of the year?

Virologists around the world are fighting to find a way to eliminate the new 2019-nCoV strain. This strain is mostly identical to that of SARS, for which experimental vaccines had been developed, but none had succeeded. Imperial College is not yet aware of any other tests performed on the mouse, although sources (unconfirmed) have suggested that the University of Shanghai is conducting the same tests.

The 2019-nCoV coronavirus observed under the electron microscope. Credits: CDC Chine

Britain has registered eight cases of the virus and has been forced to close two branches of a medical center in the south-eastern city of Brighton, where at least two staff members have tested positive. But developing a vaccine is a painstaking process that usually involves years of animal testing and human clinical trials. Authorities must then ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective enough to be mass produced.

Imperial College London hopes that research on the SARS coronavirus almost two decades ago can speed things up. “We hope to be the first to rapidly test this vaccine in human clinical trials. Once the phase I trial is completed - which may take a few months - a human efficacy trial can be started immediately, which will also take a few months. So maybe at the end of this year, there will be a tested and viable vaccine,” says McKay.

Coronavirus vaccine 2019-nCoV: an international collaboration

Much of the current global research on the new strain is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The group was formed at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos to help pharmaceutical companies and universities join forces to eliminate dangerous and preventable diseases.

Imperial College London does not work with any of the current teams in partnership with CEPI and therefore needs its own sources of funding. Its researchers hope that a successful animal experiment will help secure investments, which will allow clinical trials to start between June and August.

McKay says it would be unfair to say that various universities and companies are competing to become the first to develop a vaccine. "There has been so much cross-sharing with all of this information - I mean the Chinese, as soon as the genome was sequenced, shared it freely with everyone. So seeing a competitive side to this is probably not correct. I would rather say that it is a collaborative race”.


Imperial researchers in race to develop a coronavirus vaccine

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