Researchers of the KU Leuven are working on creating a vaccine against the coronavirus, which first broke out in the Chinese city of Wutan, but has infected people in other countries as well.
Since the outbreak was reported by China on 31 December, at least 80 people have died and the number of confirmed cases of the virus in the country has jumped to at least 2,700. Outside of China, 42 people have been infected, including several in France.
“Many victims contracted the virus in the Wuhan South China Seafood City market. It is therefore advised to avoid markets, live or dead animals, consumption of raw meat or contact with sick people,” the ministry added.
Emmanual André, a microbiologist and professor of medicine at the KU Leuven, stressed the importance of China’s transparency in regards to the virus. “Having had access very quickly to the first sequences of the coronavirus, in a quality sufficient to develop a diagnostic test in two days, allowed scientists to start the development of a vaccine. The transparency is necessary so other countries can prepare for an epidemic,” André added, reports RTBF.
Creating a vaccine to combat the virus is complex because of its high mutation capacity, meaning it adapts very quickly.
The first clinical trials are not expected to start immediately, but scientists also did not have to start from zero, and combined with the available technology, the vaccine will be able to enter the experimental phases very quickly.
“We are building on a kind of ‘passe-partout’ technology that we have developed,” said research leader and professor of virology Johan Neyts, reports De Standaard. The technology was initially intended to create a new vaccine against yellow fever, but can also be used against other pathogens.
The technology is modular: researchers can exchange the ‘yellow fever’ module for that of other viral diseases, hoping to prevent them as well. “In our lab, we have already succeeded with the viruses for rabies, ebola and zika,” said Neyts. Attempts to build in a coronavirus module are in full swing, and animal testing could begin in a few weeks’ time.
“China is reacting to show that it is a responsible power, both internationally and domestically,” said Thierry Kellner, political scientist at ULB and China specialist, reports RTBF. “Despite all that can be said about the authoritarian nature of this regime, it remains under the criticism of its own public opinion, and it has no interest in things getting out of hand, as that would be a risk to its credibility and its security,” he added.