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A group of scientists in Australia have become the first outside of China to effectively produce a lab-grown form of the coronavirus, a feat that is being labelled a “game changer” in the global struggle against the life-threatening virus. 

The researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne said the sample, which will be sent  to the World Health Organisation (WHO), will be used to help create a vaccine, as well as an antibody screen test to identify the infection in patients who have yet to develop symptoms. 

Julian Druce, the head of the virus identification laboratory at the institute, said that while China had already successfully grown the virus in a lab, they had only published information relating to the genetic information of the virus’ DNA, not the complete sample.

"Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities — it will be a game changer for diagnosis,” Druce said in a media release. “The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the WHO in Europe.”

The coronavirus, which originated from a food stall in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far infected over 24,000 people in mainland China — including 3,219 severe cases and 491 deaths, according to the WHO. The virus produces symptoms similar to the flu and is spread via droplets from sneezes and coughs. 

The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern last week after an emergency meeting. Outside of China, a single death has been reported in both the Philippines and Hong Kong. 

In Australia, the number of infected people currently sits at 12. 

"It remains that there are 12 confirmed cases in Australia. Two in South Australia, two in Queensland, four in Victoria, and four in New South Wales. Three of those in New South Wales are clear of the virus and have been discharged,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a press conference at Parliament House on Tuesday. “I want to thank and acknowledge the work of all of the state and territory authorities. They are doing a tremendous job.”

Companies and nations across the world have already announced plans to work on developing a vaccine. 

Already working on the creation of a vaccine is Australia’s University of Queensland, as well as biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies Abbvie, Geovax, Gilead, Regeneron, Vaxart, Vir, Inovio, Moderna, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson. At the same time, Russia and China revealed they were working together to develop a vaccine.


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