The UK has set up a taskforce to urgently find a vaccine for COVID-19 and prepare the industry to manufacture it at scale once it is developed, as 847 fresh deaths were reported due to the coronavirus, taking the total death toll in the country to 14,576.
Addressing the daily Downing Street briefing, UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma said on Friday (April 17) that the new ‘Vaccine Taskforce’, led by the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, is a collaboration between business and industry and academia.
“It is aimed at coordinating efforts to discover a vaccine, funnel resources and support to industry and research institutions and review regulations to remove any blocks in scaling it up,” he said.
“We cannot put a date on when we will get a vaccine. But we live in a country with a rich history of pioneering science, and with the government backing our scientists, we have the best chance to do this as quickly as possible,” said the Indian-origin Cabinet minister.
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Sharma also announced that 21 new research projects will receive funds from a 14 million pounds government pot for the development of treatments and vaccines. “UK scientists are working as fast as they can to find a vaccine that fights coronavirus, saving and protecting peoples lives. We stand firmly behind them in their efforts.
“The Vaccine Taskforce is key to coordinating efforts to rapidly accelerate the development and manufacture of a potential new vaccine, so we can make sure it is widely available to patients as soon as possible,” he said.
Under details of some of the scientific work ongoing to combat the spread of the deadly virus, one new project is led by the University of Oxford to trial an anti-malarial drug, believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, to determine whether it could diminish the effects of COVID-19 on people in high risk groups.
General Practitioner (GP) surgeries across the UK have been invited to take part in the groundbreaking trial, to ascertain whether it could reduce the need for affected patients to go to a hospital and speed up their recovery.
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Other projects receiving vital government funding under the new taskforce include an Imperial College London initiative to test a vaccine against coronavirus that aims for the body to produce more protective antibodies, and Public Health England developing a new antibody that could offer protection against infection and disease progression of coronavirus.
Public Health England is also studying how COVID-19 can be transmitted from person-to-person by determining how long it can survive in the air and on different materials found in hospitals and households like fabric, plastics, metals, and ceramics.
The UK has already pledged 250 million pounds to the international effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine under the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
The latest announcement aims to make the UK a leader in clinical vaccine testing and manufacturing, building on existing research and development expertise.
“We’re doing everything possible to save lives and beat this disease, and that includes working flat out with businesses, researchers and industry to find a vaccine as quickly as possible. The UK is world-leading in developing vaccines. We are the biggest contributor to the global effort and preparing to ensure we can manufacture vaccines here at home as soon as practically possible,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.