Government gives coronavirus vaccine £20 million cash boost

3 February 2020, 06:36

Workers make protective masks at the workshop of a company in Jinxian County, east China's Jiangxi Province
Workers make protective masks at the workshop of a company in Jinxian County, east China's Jiangxi Province. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The Government will plough £20 million of funding into an ambitious six-month plan to produce a coronavirus vaccine.

Infectious disease experts will work on an “unprececdented” timescale to develop a vaccine to combat the deadly global disease.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement on Monday as the death toll in China from the disease rose to 361, with one more fatality having been recorded in the Philippines.

A further 2,829 new cases were confirmed by Chinese health authorities in the 24 hours to Monday morning, taking the total number of cases in the country to 17,205.

Most cases have been recorded in Hubei province, whose capital city Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak.

Buses carrying British nationals from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside
Buses carrying British nationals from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside. Picture: PA

Several countries including Britain have evacuated hundreds of their citizens from the infection zone.

Eleven more evacuees - comprising British citizens and their family members - arrived back in the country on Sunday evening to join the 83 already in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral.

The UK Government's £20 million investment will go to CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), a global body aiming to fast-track a vaccine within six to eight months.

CEPI chief executive Dr Richard Hatchett said: "This is an extremely ambitious timeline - indeed, it would be unprecedented in the field of vaccine development.

"It is important to remember that even if we are successful - and there can be no guarantee - there will be further challenges to navigate before we can make vaccines more broadly available."

The UK's money will help fund the efforts of Dr Kate Broderick, a 42-year-old Scot based in California, who is working to create a coronavirus vaccine.

The coronavirus outbreak has been categorised as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, with cases confirmed in several countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan, as well as in the UK.

Two people, a University of York student and one of their relatives, are being treated for the infection in the UK.

Announcing investment into stemming the spread of the virus, Mr Hancock said: "Vaccines are our best defence against a host of deadly diseases, including coronavirus.

"The UK is a hub of world-leading and pioneering research, and it is vital that we lead the way in developing new vaccines to target global threats with scientists from across the world.

"The £20 million announced today will help our globally recognised vaccine development capabilities continue to develop new defences against emerging diseases, including coronavirus."

Dr Hatchett said the Government funding came at a "crucial moment" in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

"The rapid global spread and unique epidemiological characteristics of the virus are deeply concerning," he said.

"Our hope is that, with our partners, we can get an investigational vaccine from gene sequencing of the pathogen through to clinical testing in 16 weeks.

"The earliest stage of phase one clinical trials, to establish the safety of investigational vaccines, would take around two to four months."

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