Race is on to find coronavirus vaccine as outbreak escalates

The race is on to find a vaccine for the coronavirus outbreak that has put an entire Chinese city on lockdown, killed 17 people and has begun to spread to other parts of the world.

The World Health Organisation is monitoring the outbreak that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people where public transport is reportedly suspended and residents are required to wear face masks.

There are more than 500 confirmed cases of the virus currently known as 2019-nCoV, a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans.

As the sense of emergency grows, a number of biotech stocks have been spiking in anticipation of potential vaccines or treatments being developed.

Shares in US biotech Novavax have fluctuated wildly this week after it told analysts it is in the early stages of developing a vaccine, and filed to sell more than $100 million of its stock.

Novavax is already working on a flu vaccine and told analysts it is developing clones from the new coronavirus strain – the first stage of development.

According to a press report Michael Higgens, an analyst from Ladenburg Thalmann, said in a note that he does not expect human trials to begin without government funding.

Novavax already developed a vaccine for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), another form of coronavirus, in 2013.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is working on a MERS DNA vaccine, and BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, developing a drug for yellow fever and Marburg virus, also saw their stocks move amid speculation that they could start development of drugs to treat the new strain.

The US government-backed National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also working on a vaccine, according to CNN.

The institute’s director Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN’s news website: “The NIH is in the process of taking the first steps towards the development of a vaccine.”

Fauci said it would take a few months until clinical trials get under way, and a vaccine might be more than a year away.

The Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed nearly 800 people globally in the early 2000s was a coronavirus, as is the common cold.

It’s thought the new virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that has been shut since the beginning of the year.

Some scientists think that the virus most likely originated in snakes, but the Journal of Medical Virology said that this would need to be confirmed by other studies.

There is also evidence of human-to-human transmission with the virus spreading to other family members and healthcare workers.

Coronaviruses have been so named because under electron microscopes they show a fringe of surface projections, resembling a royal crown or the solar corona.

Feature image courtesy of Rocky Mountain Laboratories/NIH

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