The disease – believed to have originated in a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year, has since spread with alarming rapidity, with 565 deaths so far and cases confirmed in a total of 27 countries worldwide, and a third case confirmed in the UK today. Now the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), of which the UK is a member, has issued a rallying cry urging pharmacists to hunt through their “libraries” for assets which could offer vital clues or even treatments.
The pharmaceutical industry is setting in place research programmes to accelerate development of vaccines, medicines and diagnostics
Relevant assets could include approved therapies or compounds in development which could be “repurposed” for use in treating patients with the coronavirus, an EFPIA spokesman told Express.co.uk.
He added: “The pharmaceutical industry is setting in place research programmes to accelerate development of vaccines, medicines (including repurposing of existing medicines) and diagnostics.
“A lot has been invested in the past outbreaks of coronaviruses (SARS and MERS).
Matt Hancock announced £20million towards vaccine research earlier this week
A pharmaceutical technologist researches a coronavirus treatment in France
“We can capitalise on some of this work, as well as on existing projects and programmes.
“Timescales depend on if you are developing a new vaccine, a therapeutic from scratch or repurposing an existing medicine or medicine in development.”
At the moment, options for battling coronaviruses – named for their distinctive “crown” of sugary proteins – are limited, he explained.
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He added: “There are no treatments licensed for this or other coronaviruses.
“The symptoms are treated with existing medicines.”
Nevertheless, he added: “There are several international global funders who already announced grants, but mainly for vaccines (CEPI, BARDA, WT).
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“The European Commission recently launched a call for pan-European programmes that could cover treatments.
“National authorities eg in France and the UK are also about to release some funding for biomedical research.”
Bill and Melinda Gates yesterday confirmed they were donating £77million (£100million) towards coronavirus vaccine research and treatment efforts, announced as part of the World Health Organization’s request for £520million ($ 675million) to fight the spread of the disease.
The number of cases worldwide is approaching 30,000
Earlier this week, the UK Government pledged £20 million to develop new vaccines to combat the world’s deadliest diseases, largely in response to the latest outbreak.
The new funding will support work developing new vaccines for epidemics, including three new programmes to develop vaccines against what is officially known as 2019-nCoV.
All aim to advance 2019-nCoV vaccine candidates into clinical testing as quickly as possible.
Travellers wearing face masks in Bangkok
Speaking on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Vaccines are our best defense 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.
“It’s paramount we invest in vital research about infectious diseases, keeping the UK at the forefront of modern-day science so we can share this knowledge globally.”