The University of Queensland has been asked to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus outbreak at 'unprecedented speed'

James Hennessy
  • The University of Queensland has announced it will use new "rapid response technology" to develop a vaccine for the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
  • The university has partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a public-private partnership which aims to "develop vaccines to stop future epidemics".
  • The university says it hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months – helping to contain the spread of the outbreak, which originated in Wuhan, China.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

The University of Queensland (UQ) announced on Friday it has been asked to develop a vaccine for the recent Chinese coronavirus outbreak, using the university's recently developed rapid response technology.

In a statement, the university announced it had received a request to develop a vaccine from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which describes itself as "an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations" which seeks to develop vaccines to protect the world against outbreaks.

Head of the university's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, Professor Paul Young, said in a statement that UQ has novel technology for the rapid development of vaccines, which could provide a vaccine within six months.

“The team hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months, which may be used to help contain this outbreak,” he said. “The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world.”

According to CEPI, it partnered with the University of Queensland earlier in January to develop a “molecular clamp” vaccine platform, which would enable "targeted and rapid vaccine production". At the time, CEPI committed up to AU$15.4 million for UQ to develop the molecular clamp technology.

In addition to the partnership with UQ, CEPI announced it would be working with two other partners to develop a vaccine – US pharmaceuticals company Inovio, and biotechnology firm Moderna.

"Given the rapid global spread of the nCoV-2019 virus the world needs to act quickly and in unity to tackle this disease," CEO of CEPI Richard Hatchett said in a statement.

"Our intention with this work is to leverage our work on the MERS coronavirus and rapid response platforms to speed up vaccine development. There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease."

In its statement, CEPI also said the partnership with the University of Queensland would also involve using the molecular-clamp technology to develop vaccines against known pathogens like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus.

Several other pharmaceuticals and biotech companies have announced plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine over the past week. Previous infectious disease outbreaks, including for the Ebola and Zika viruses, show the challenges – and lengthy timelines – in developing effective vaccines.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told industry publication Biocentury that the first clinical trials for a vaccine could begin as soon as April. “We likely will be able, unless there are unanticipated roadblocks, to start a Phase 1 trial in about three months,” he said.

At least 25 people have died and more than 800 have been infected by the coronavirus, according to state health authorities. The virus originated in Wuhan, reportedly from the city's 'street meat' market.

On Wednesday, local authorities quarantined the entire city of Wuhan, with all transportation halted.

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