The first batch of a potential coronavirus vaccine has been sent to the US government for testing by researchers.
Drugmaker Moderna sent vials to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland for phase one testing.
When a new vaccine is developed it has to pass a number of trial stages, and phase one testing will see the inoculation administered to healthy volunteers.
If it passes phase one, which involves scientists evaluating the best dosage, the next stage of testing will see more people given the product.
The drugmaker said the vaccine is designed to target the spike protein on the surface of the virus that allows it to invade and infect human cells.
So far more than 80,000 people have been infected with coronavirus globally and 2,707 have died since it first emerged in Wuhan at the end of 2019.
Chief Technical Operations and Quality Officer at Moderna Juan Andres said he wanted to thank the entire Moderna team for their “extraordinary effort” in responding to this global health emergency with record speed.
He said: “The collaboration across Moderna, with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has allowed us to deliver a clinical batch in 42 days from sequence identification.
“This would not have been possible without our Norwood manufacturing site [in Massachusetts], which uses leading-edge technology to enable flexible operations and ensure high quality standards are met for clinical-grade material.”
Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Peter Piot, said he was sceptical there would be a vaccine to deal with coronavirus before the situation was brought under control.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t expect that there will be a vaccine available for millions of people who would need it before the end of the year.
“I am very sceptical that we will have a vaccine before this epidemic is brought under control.
“But it may be very useful to have one if this becomes seasonal and every year we have a wave of this.”
Prof Whitty said any vaccine against coronavirus will have to come from existing drugs that already have licences.
He added: “The key thing is to find drugs that are currently licensed that work against this virus.
“We will not be able to develop a new drug before it reaches its peak.”