In Brief

Scientists begin testing two coronavirus vaccines

Australian researchers reach ‘critical milestone’ in global Covid-19 battle

Scientists in Australia have begun testing two potential coronavirus vaccines, marking a “critical milestone” in the fight to bring the global pandemic under control.

The vaccines, made by Oxford University and US company Inovio Pharmaceutical, have been cleared for animal testing by the World Health Organization.

The first human trial for a coronavirus vaccine took place in the US last month, the BBC reports. But Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) says its tests will be the first pre-clinical trials of the vaccines using an animal model – in this case ferrets, which contract the coronavirus as humans do.

The Guardian adds that approximately 35 companies and academic institutions around the world are currently racing to create a vaccine.

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“Normally it takes about one-to-two years to get to this point and we’ve in fact shortened that to a period of a couple of months,” Rob Grenfell from CSIRO told reporters.

“This unprecedented speed is thanks in large part to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19,” says The Guardian.

“China shared that sequence in early January, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.”

Another factor is access to existing research combating similar viruses, particularly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers). 

According to Yahoo Finance, scientists elsewhere are also trialling existing drugs used to treat conditions such as Ebola, HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in order to establish if they could be used against the coronavirus.

“The ideal vaccine would be safe, easy to administer, simple and cheap to manufacture, and provide long-term protection against Covid-19,” write Kylie Quinn and Damian Purcell on The Conversation.

“But, to begin with, we’d even be happy with a vaccine that could reduce the amount of virus generated during a typical infection. If an infected person is making less virus, they are less likely to infect others. Less virus could also reduce the amount of damage caused by an infection in the patient.”

The first results from animal tests could be revealed as early as June, scientists say, and if successful, the vaccines could then be moved into clinical trials that could be conducted at labs elsewhere.

“At that point, the race to get the medicine into the general market could be accelerated, but experts warn it would still involve a minimum 18-month timeline to meet regulatory tests and standards,” says the BBC.

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