The Scottish scientist in the frontline of the battle against the deadly coronavirus is warning the need for a vaccine is even more critical with more than 31,000 confirmed cases and around 630 deaths.
Dr Kate Broderick, is working round the clock with her team of researchers at the pharmaceutical company Inovio in San Diego to develop a jab in just six months.
The 42-year-old, who is originally from Dunfermline, and has been living in California for 20 years, says the aim is to make a vaccine faster than they’ve made “any other in our history”.
Broderick has helped create successful vaccines for ebola, zika, lassa fever and Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) moving from Glasgow to develop her work in molecular genetics.
She first read about the coronavirus outbreak on Hogmanay and saw that the World Health Organisation had reported a couple of cases.
From there the Chinese authorities published the DNA sequence online which was the trigger for Broderick and her team to start working on a new vaccine.
She said: “Seeing it online was like 100 per cent confirmation that this was a new virus but even before that from the disease symptoms it wasn’t fitting into any particular box.
“So, we already suspected that this was something new.
“We downloaded the sequences and the first stage of our development is done on a computer which is why our technology at Novio allows us to go so far.
“We ran the sequences through a computer algorithm and three hours later we actually had a full design for the vaccine and the next day we were able to put that into manufacturing.”
She added: “It’s definitely 100 per cent a race against the clock – we’re working here 24/7 and that’s not an exaggeration to get this thing out.
“What we’re trying to do here is make a vaccine faster than we’ve ever made any other vaccine in our history.
“Our fastest in the past was seven months from sequence to patient and that was for the Zika outbreak – where kids were being born with these terrible neurological deficits and we really sprang into action there.
“We got the viral sequence and we got it tested in humans within seven months and we were so proud of that and here for the novel coronavirus we’re trying to do it significantly faster than that.
“We need international support and I think we’re seeing that in the scientific community.
“There’s a lot of organisations working together but it’s absolutely a race against time.”
The UK government announced earlier this week that it has pledged £20 million to develop new vaccines to combat the world’s deadliest diseases, amid concerns over the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.
Dr Broderick welcomed the funding which will go to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), originally formed in response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
She added: “That’s what we need now – funding to support this work.
“We have to follow all the established protocols and work with the authorities – that’s absolutely critical.
“So, all we would do first is a phase one clinical trial which we plan to do early summer.
“That’s testing it on completely healthy people just to get a read-out of the fact the vaccine is safe and its doing what we hope it’s going to do.
“We hope to roll that out in the US in the early summer and we’ll also be working with our colleagues in China to do similar kinds of trials there with an eye to discussing with the Chinese authorities to get the vaccine out to people who need it as soon as it’s available.”
Dr Broderick has retained her Scottish accent having gone to St Columba’s High School in Dunfermline before studying genetics at the University of Glasgow, where she also completed her PhD.
Her father was a physicist, her mother a therapist, one of her sisters is a nurse and the other is a social worker.
She met her husband, Steve, in California, and 20 years on is still there. She has two children, Rory, aged eight, and four-year-old Isla.
She said: “Every single day almost someone will ask me if I’m here on vacation and I’ll say no I’ve been here for 20 years.
“I come back to Scotland at least once a year and my whole family are still in Scotland and I feel very, very Scottish.
“I’m proud of my adopted home in California but I very much consider myself Scottish.”