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The University of Queensland (UQ), a leader in the creation of new vaccines, has been commissioned to urgently work to produce a vaccine against the recently emerged coronavirus. 

The call came from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a partnership against epidemics by public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations. The coalition hopes the university's recently developed breakthrough technology could be used to create a life-saving vaccine ready for clinical testing in just 16 weeks and available in as little as six months. 

Paul Young, head of the university’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said UQ’s newly developed “molecular clamp technology” enables the rapid creation of new vaccines because it is able to read and assess a virus’s genetic sequence information.

"The team hopes to develop a vaccine over the next six months, which may be used to help contain this outbreak,” he said in a statement. “The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world.”

A team of at least 20 researchers will work overtime directly on the project. 

Alongside the partnership with UQ, CPEI will also work with pharmaceutical company Inovio and biotechnology firm Moderna to research and develop solutions against the deadly virus.

CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett said that while there was “no guarantee of success,” it was vital to try.

"Given the rapid global spread of the [coronavirus] virus, the world needs to act quickly and in unity to tackle this disease,” he said in a media release. “There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease.”

The coronavirus, which originated from a food market in the Chinese city of Wuhan around a month ago, has infected over 7,800 people and caused 170 deaths in mainland China alone, according to a live update from the South China Morning Post. 

Just over 70 cases of the virus, which causes symptoms similar to the flu, have been recorded throughout the rest of Asia. 

Eight cases have also been recorded in Taiwan, the United States and Europe, respectively. 

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern after an Emergency Committee meeting. 

Alongside Inovio and Moderna, several other companies have announced plans to work on a coronavirus vaccine. 

Drugmaker Novavax announced last week it has “initiated the development of a vaccine candidate” to fight the disease. At the same time, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said Monday it was “pretty confident” that, within a year, their scientists  could develop a vaccine “that will work and stay active for the longer term.”


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