Two local labs working on developing coronavirus vaccine

PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- There are at least four research groups already working around-the-clock to create a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus.

One developed in the Philadelphia area is already undergoing testing and it uses cutting-edge technology that can create vaccines much faster than the traditional method.

"So, the DNA sequence was identified and put up and shared with the world," said Joseph Kim, CEO of Inovio Pharmaceuticals.

Kim says the Chinese government uploaded the full sequence of the new coronavirus onto The Cloud on January 11th.

Right away, Inovio, along with researchers at the Wistar Institute and two other teams, started working on a vaccine using new, faster technology.

"Its a big difference, like an electric car versus a model T," says Kim.

He says traditional ways to make vaccine use the actual virus, but researchers here take just the genetic code, using a computer to make a synthetic vaccine.

Animal tests are already underway for the new vaccine.

So far more than 800 cases of the new coronavirus have been reported, most of them in Asia, but experts say that's likely the tip of the iceberg.

Kim says quarantine efforts to contain outbreaks help, but getting started on a vaccine is vital.

"So we're there just in case the outbreak lasts longer or creates a bigger problem," notes Kim.

It's a pattern they know well. Inovio helped develop a vaccine for MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a potentially deadly infection which is also caused by a coronavirus.

That outbreak started in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and new cases continue to pop up.

We're also learning more about the origin of this new virus. One theory said it could have started from snakes sold at a market.

Today, researchers say it's more closely related to coronaviruses found in Chinese horseshoe bats.

The SARS epidemic also started with bats.

But again, scientists continue to investigate this emerging virus.
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