Singapore scientists say they have developed a way to track genetic changes that could speed up vaccine testing against a coronavirus that has killed more than 16,000 people worldwide.
Scientists at Duke University-NUS Medical School say their technology can assess potential vaccines provided by Arcturus Therapeutics in just a few days.
“You can know from the way the genes change – what genes are turned on, what are turned off,” said Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the school’s emerging infectious diseases programme.
He added that a rapid assessment of such changes triggered by the vaccine allowed scientists to determine its effectiveness and side effects, and not just rely on the response of humans receiving the vaccine.
Till now, there are no approved medicines or preventive vaccines that can target the virus and most patients have received only supportive care, such as respiratory assistance. Experts say preparing the vaccine can take a year or more.
Ooi said he started testing the vaccine in mice in about a week and expects to conduct human trials later this year.
From discovery to approval, past vaccine development could take more than 10 years, but Ooi said that science can now provide faster response.
“Everyone is racing ahead, but we are kind of writing the playbook as the game is being played,” he added.
Pharmaceutical firms and researchers around the globe are racing to develop vaccines and treatments for the virus. These efforts include Gilead Sciences Inc’s experimental antiviral drug remdesivir and a plasma-derived therapy from Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.