The hunt for a coronavirus vaccine begins

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Happy Friday, readers.

The burgeoning Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has reached at least nine countries (including the U.S.), sickened hundreds of people, and killed at least 26 in Asia to date.

Transportation systems in the region have been shut down amidst Chinese New Year festivities; airports are on high alert. Just today, the second reported travel-related U.S. case (in Chicago) was confirmed. And a new hospital dedicated entirely to treating patients of this coronavirus strain seems to have propped up overnight in China.

Public health scares, understandably, have a way of inducing panic. (Sidenote: Panic is not a good way of dealing with outbreaks. Wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, and don’t stress unless public health authorities escalate their warnings. The U.S., at this point, doesn’t seem to have any reason to freak out.)

But medical officials are on high alert—and that includes drug makers.

A coalition of vaccine experts met with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week, according to Reuters, with a pretty stunning goal: Try and get to initial human testing of this latest coronavirus strain, which causes flu- and pneumonia-like symptoms, in the next three months. Companies involved in the effort include Moderna, Novavax, and others.

The virus’ genome was deciphered by Chinese scientists and shared with other researchers in an effort to expedite vaccine development. With the genetic information in hand, scientists from around the world wouldn’t have to wait for samples to get going on their work.

Could this be an early sign that the global health community has learned some lessons from the SARS and Ebola outbreaks of the past ten years? We can only hope.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee
[email protected]

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