Australia’s science agency announced on Thursday it has begun trials on ferrets to produce a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
A statement released by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) — the country’s national science agency — said that scientists have commenced the first stage of testing for potential vaccines.
“We have started pre-clinical trials for two vaccine candidates,” it added.
“The testing [is] expected to take three months,” the statement said, adding that the process was underway at the CSIRO’s high-containment biosecurity facility in Geelong, Victoria.
The move comes after the country reported more than 5,100 confirmed cases of the virus with a total of 24 deaths on Thursday.
The statement said the CSIRO established its biological model last February but that its researchers have been studying the coronavirus since January.
“It is the first in the world to confirm ferrets react to SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19],” the statement added.
SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome.
“Researchers have quickly progressed to studying the course of infection in the animals — a crucial step in understanding if a vaccine will work,” it added.
Trevor Drew, who is leading the effort, said that the coronavirus could cause various illnesses including the common cold, gastrointestinal infections and diseases such as SARS and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
“They are found in a wide range of different animal hosts, including birds and reptiles and most are specific for a particular host. But, occasionally, these viruses can jump host, as in this case. Coronaviruses get their name from their appearance,” Drew said in a statement to the CSIRO, adding that the viruses looked like they were covered with pointed structures that surround them like a corona, or crown, when viewed under a microscope.
After originating in Wuhan, China last December, the virus has spread to at least 180 countries and regions across the world, with its epicenter shifting to Europe, while China has largely come out of the crisis.
The virus infected over 941,900 people worldwide, while some 195,900 people recovered from the disease, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. Over 47, 500 have died.
Despite the rising number of cases, most people who get infected suffer only mild symptoms and make a recovery.