The government has donated £20 million towards a break-neck plan to produce a vaccine to combat the deadly new coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the money would help the UK lead the way in developing a new inoculation.
It comes as the death toll in China increased to 361 with the total number of cases there now above 17,000.
Meanwhile 11 Britons flown back from Wuhan – the outbreak’s epicentre – have begun two weeks in quarantine.
The additional evacuees – who travelled from China via France – joined 83 people already in group isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.
The government’s £20m investment will go to CEPI – the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – a global body aiming to fast-track a vaccine within six to eight months.
CEPI chief executive Dr Richard Hatchett said such a tight timescale was “unprecedented”.
If the biologists are successful, more time would still be required to test the vaccine more widely and secure sign-off from medical regulators before it could be distributed across the world.
“This is an extremely ambitious timeline – indeed, it would be unprecedented in the field of vaccine development,” Dr Hatchett said.
“It is important to remember that even if we are successful – and there can be no guarantee – there will be further challenges to navigate before we can make vaccines more broadly available.”
The UK’s money will help fund the efforts of Dr Kate Broderick, a 42-year-old Scot based in California, who is working to create a coronavirus vaccine.
“We hope to get the final product into human testing by early summer,” Dr Broderick, a molecular geneticist who works for the pharmaceutical company Inovio, told the BBC last week.
The coronavirus outbreak has been categorised as a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation, with cases confirmed in several countries including Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan, as well as in the UK.
Two people, a University of York student and one of their relatives, became the first people to test positive for the new strain in the UK and are being treated at a specialist unit in Newcastle.
‘All wearing masks’
Meanwhile those isolated at Arrowe Park have spoken of their experiences as they continue their quarantine in a nurses’ accommodation block.
Lecturer Yvonne Griffiths, 71, from Cardiff, said she had been put in a shared flat with four separate rooms, a kitchen and a lobby area, where food and drinks were delivered.
Speaking on her third day in quarantine, she said she had “some interaction” with the others in her flat.
“People go [to the lobby] to collect things and also pick up food and some people will stand having their food together, but all wearing masks,” she said.
“Obviously you have to put your mask down a little for you to eat.”
Announcing the investment into stemming the spread of the virus, Mr Hancock said: “Vaccines are our best defence against a host of deadly diseases, including coronavirus.
“The UK is a hub of world-leading and pioneering research, and it is vital that we lead the way in developing new vaccines to target global threats with scientists from across the world.”
The death toll from the new virus, which is officially called 2019-nCov, now stands at more than 300.
More than 17,000 cases have been confirmed and a small proportion of those – around 100 – have been identified outside China. The UK, US, Russia and Germany have all confirmed cases in recent days.
Latest figures from China’s National Health Commission on Monday showed that there were 21,558 suspected cases in the country and that 152,700 people are “under medical watch”.
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