US developing vaccine, urges more cooperation from China

WASHINGTON • The United States said it is developing a vaccine against the Wuhan virus, and urged Beijing to step up cooperation with the international health authorities.

The US is keen to put its own teams on the ground to review the raw data and learn more about the pathogen.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) official Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday: “We have already started at the NIH and with many of our collaborators on the developing of a vaccine.”

It would take three months to start the first trial and three more months to gather data, before being able to move into the second phase.

The process is being undertaken by biotech firm Moderna.

“We are proceeding as if we will have to deploy a vaccine,” said Dr Fauci. “We are looking at the worst scenario, that this becomes a bigger outbreak.”

China was severely criticised for its handling of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic of 2002-2003, which claimed of lives, mostly on the mainland and in Hong Kong.

During that health emergency, scientists had begun to develop a vaccine, but it was never deployed, Dr Fauci said.

Meanwhile, scientists in Australia have successfully replicated the Wuhan virus, in what they said would be a game changer in the fight against the epidemic.

The Doherty Institute in Melbourne said yesterday that it had grown the novel virus in cell culture from a patient sample, the first time the virus has been replicated outside China.

Virus identification laboratory head Julian Druce said: “Having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities.”

Dr Mike Catton, the institute’s deputy director, said scientists could now create an antibody test to detect the virus in patients who have not displayed any symptoms.

“An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate,” he said.

China was to sequence the genome of the virus and make it public, winning praise for its efforts.

But it has not shared the virus itself with labs worldwide – which the Australian lab will now do via the World Health Organisation (WHO) – though WHO announced on Tuesday that Beijing had agreed to allow a team of international experts into the country to work with their Chinese counterparts.

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