Texas biotech company working to develop coronavirus vaccine

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A Texas biotech company says it is working to develop and test a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus spreading from China.

iBio, which contracts drug development and manufacturing from pharmaceutical companies, say it is teaming up with Beijing CC-Pharming Ltd for the task. 

This makes the Bryan, Texas-based company one of the dozens of drugmakers working on vaccines or antivirals to treat those infected and prevent others from contracting the illness.

There are no confirmed cases in Texas but officials revealed on Thursday that a patient is being tested at Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas in Beaumont after returning from a trip to China with ‘flu-like symptoms.’

The company is using a process it calls FastPharming, which strives to find antibody candidates against viruses in as little as three weeks.

Researchers grow tobacco-based plants under lights and then use bacteria to design the plants for vaccine development, according to KBTX.

‘What’s so important about what iBio can do here is that we make our products very, very quickly so the platform lends itself to a rapid production of both vaccines as well as therapeutics in this case we’re focusing on the vaccine,’ Tom Isett, managing director of iBio, told the station.

The technology has been used in creating antibody candidates to fight Ebola and dengue fever as well as in research for yellow fever virus. 

Isett says that while the company hopes to have a vaccine manufactured by the end of 2020, there’s no guarantee it will happen.   

‘The research has to occur [first]and that’s what’s transpiring now and what’s so important about this is the faster you can get into testing and animals and then ultimately release something to people the better,’ he told KBTX. 

There are several roadblocks for vaccine researchers.

A World Health Organization report found that the cost of developing a vaccine from research to registration costs between $200 million and US $500 million per vaccine.

What’s more, getting approval from agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration could take more than a year.

‘It will take at least 12 to 18 months,’ Thomas Breuer, chief medical officer of the vaccine unit at GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, told Reuters.

‘Which means in the acute situation we are in now – at least in China – that will not create a benefit.’

The outbreak shows no signs of slowing down, with thousands of cases reported everyday, most in Wuhan, where the virus originated. 

Also attempting to develop a vaccine is Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania, which is trying to use synthetic DNA to cells to make a particular protein that protect against the virus.  

And, in France, researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris are trying to mix genetic material from other viruses into the measles vaccine and create a new coronavirus vaccine. 

Since the outbreak began in December 2019, more than 28,000 people have become infected in 27 countries and territories.

All of the 564 deaths – aside from two – have been occurred in China, mostly in the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated. 

There are 12 confirmed cases in the US including six in California, two in Illinois and one each in Arizona, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. 

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