Queensland Uni joins US biotechs in search for coronavirus vaccine

NASDAQ-listed Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Moderna have been awarded funds to develop a vaccine

Abbvie - US biotech to focus on coronavirus vaccine, GSK to stay aside

The University of Queensland has joined three US small companies as potential players looking to curtail the coronavirus outbreak.

Shares in NASDAQ-listed Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (NASDAQ:INO), Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRN) and Novavax Inc (NASDAQ:NVAX) have all rallied strongly on hopes they might develop a vaccine against the new disease.

Inovio has received a US$9mln award from CEPI, a global partnership of public and private entities to promote vaccine research and development.

READ: Outbreak of deadly coronavirus raises fears of SARS repeat

CEPI, which stands for Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, has now also asked the University of Queensland to develop a vaccine.

“The team hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months, which may be used to help contain this outbreak,” Professor Paul Young said in a release.

“The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world.”

As of Tuesday, more than 100 people have died, with more than 4,500 reported cases of the infection reported.

It is believed to have started in Wuhan, a Chinese city with an 11m population and reportedly was made the jump to humans from either snakes, bats, badgers or rats.

Meanwhile, doctors in China are using HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir to treat the affected.

The two principles are a combination called Aluvia, a formulation produced by pharma giant AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV), which donated a batch to the Chinese authorities as “an experimental option”.

“I suspect larger companies will not necessarily develop new antibiotics for the coronavirus,” Adam Barker, an analyst at Shore Capital, told Proactive.

He said it is all about control, mentioning how the SARS epidemic in 2004 was halted by isolating people to stop the spread of the virus.

Experts say the outbreak is still in its early days and it will take some time to control, while an effective vaccine might take up to two years to be developed.

“Economies will be impacted by the measures taken to reduce transmission but provided these are not as draconian as those currently imposed in China the economic impact would be relatively modest,” Alastair George, chief investment strategist at Edison, said in an email.

In the UK, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (LON:GSK) produces a widely used flu vaccine but a spokesperson said there are no active scientific projects for the coronavirus.

Experts say it is difficult to transfer an existing formulation to a vaccine for a different virus.

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