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Coronavirus: Animal testing plays part in the race to find a vaccine

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

As the Chinese coronavirus spreads, scientists around the world are working non-stop to find a vaccine and animal models are a vital part of the research process.

Vincent Munster of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that his lab’s first priority was to identify the type of animals that experience the infection in a similar way to humans.

He told Nature they plan to look at a mouse genetically engineered to contain a human version of the receptors that the SARS virus and the new coronavirus use to infect cells.

Future work could involve exposing mice and, later, non-human primates to the virus and testing whether vaccines can prevent infection.

In the UK, researchers at the Imperial College London and Oxford University are currently developing a vaccine that they will test in animals in the next few days.

“We have successfully generated our novel coronavirus vaccine candidate in the lab – just 14 days from getting the genetic sequence to generating the candidate.” said Imperial's Robin Shattock (listen to the full audio interview).

But in a Guardian article, Peter Hotez, of Baylor University, Texas, USA, who was involved in the search for a SARS vaccine, warned that the problem was not making a vaccine, but the time it takes for safety-testing and licensing the product.

“The problem is that is even after manufacturing a vaccine, you still have to go through the safety testing on humans – clinical trials as well as formal toxicology testing in animals. It’s hard to rush and that’s where you tend to get a bottleneck,” he said.

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