Matt Hancock has pledged £20 million towards developing a new vaccine against coronavirus.
In light of the deadly new form of the virus spreading further, including to England last week, the health secretary said that the Government will ramp up efforts to fund ‘ground-breaking’ research into the area.
There will be three new programmes dedicated to combatting the threat of future viruses and epidemics, said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The £20m investment will go to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global partnership formed following the Ebola crisis.
CEPI is aiming to carry out gene sequencing of the pathogen through to clinical testing over the coming months, so that a vaccine is created within 16 weeks – but admitted it was an ‘extremely ambitious timeline’.
This comes as two members of the same family were confirmed to be the first coronavirus cases in the UK. It has since been revealed by the DHSC that the patients are receiving specialist NHS care at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.
A total of 264 others have also been tested in the UK, according to Public Health England (PHE)’s latest update.
Vaccines are ‘best defence’
After announcing £20m investment at PHE’s Porton Down laboratory, 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.’
He added: ‘The £20 million…will help our globally recognised vaccine development capabilities continue to develop new defences against emerging diseases including coronavirus.’
Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of CEPI, expressed ‘deep concern’ of the rapid spread and ‘unique epidemiological characteristics’ of the new form of coronavirus.
The first stage of clinical trials, establishing the safety of the vaccines, is expected to take two to four months – an ‘extremely ambitious timeline’ that would be ‘unprecedented’ within the field, according to the CEPI.