Boris Johnson pledges £46 million for coronavirus vaccine research

6 March 2020, 18:18

Boris Johnson made the pledge on Friday
Boris Johnson made the pledge on Friday. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson has pledged a further £46 million for research into a coronavirus vaccine and rapid diagnostic tests.

The Prime Minister announced the funding during a tour of a Bedfordshire laboratory, where British scientists are working on a quick and cheap way to diagnose coronavirus.

There is currently no vaccine available to protect people against Covid-19, but Mr Johnson said he hoped one will be ready in about a year.

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has previously said the UK "will not have a vaccine available for the first wave" of a pandemic, but that it is still important to develop one for any future waves.

Global human trials of eight possible vaccines could start later this year. But firms would then face the task of mass-producing and distributing them.

Public Health England (PHE) has developed methods of testing for coronavirus, but more rapid tests are needed as these currently rely on samples being sent to a lab.

Read more: Coronavirus: Beard sanitiser sales spike after NHS urged staff to shave

The package announced by the PM comes under the "research" phase of the Government's "battle plan" to contain, delay, mitigate and research coronavirus.

Downing Street said the UK's investment into Covid-19 vaccine research is now worth £65 million, with £91 million in total for international work to stop the spread of the virus.

Mr Johnson spoke to scientists at the Mologic lab, which is ramping up efforts to provide more testing in people's homes.

This will mean patients can receive treatment more quickly at home, reducing the risk of them passing the virus to others by going outdoors.

Any rapid diagnostic test could also be sent to other countries with no lab capability or whose medical facilities are not as advanced.

A new test will therefore be jointly manufactured in the UK and Senegal.

Read more: Coronavirus UK: Do surgical face masks work to avoid virus symptoms?

There are over 100,000 cases worldwide
There are over 100,000 cases worldwide. Picture: PA

In a statement, the PM said: "Keeping the British people safe is my number one priority, and that's why I've set out our four-part plan to contain, delay, mitigate and research coronavirus.

"We are ensuring the country is prepared for the current outbreak, guided by the science at every stage. But we also need to invest now in researching the vaccines that could help prevent future outbreaks.

"I'm very proud that UK experts - backed by government funding - are on the front line of global efforts to do just that."

Read more: Brighton shop owner asks customers to wear masks and gloves amid coronavirus fear

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson added: "What we are announcing today is a £46 million package of investment in UK science which will in time deliver a vaccine - some say in about a year - but also help us to have rapid test kits that anyone can use quickly and effectively to tell whether they have coronavirus."

The Government's Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: "Rapid testing is going to be key to managing this outbreak, but ultimately vaccines are going to provide the long-term protection we need.

"The UK has some of the world's leading scientists and this money will help in our fight to tackle this new disease."

Read more: ‘Don’t die, please buy’ Glasgow newsagent sells out entire stock of coronavirus face masks

Two people have been diagnosed in the UK
Two people have been diagnosed in the UK. Picture: PA

It comes as a second person has died in the UK from coronavirus.

The person, who has not been named, is understood to have died in Milton Keynes hospital.

According to the Milton Keynes Citizen, doctors are awaiting the results of official tests to confirm it was a case of Covid-19.

It has been reported the patient was in his eighties and had other health conditions.

Staff who treated the man have gone into self-isolation and the hospital ward has undergone a deep clean.

Yesterday, it was confirmed an elderly woman with prior health problems died in Reading.