Coronavirus: Aussie scientists claim breakthrough

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A team of scientists in Australia have said that they have successfully developed a lab-grown version of the new coronavirus, the first to be recreated outside of China, in a breakthrough that could help quicken the creation of a vaccine, Otago Daily Times said.

The researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne have said on Wednesday they would share the sample, which was grown from an infected patient, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and laboratories around the world.

“This is a step, it’s a piece of the puzzle that we have contributed,” Doherty Institute Deputy Director Mike Catton told reporters, while noting the development alone would not turn the tide in the battle against the virus.

The flu-like virus broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. While China has since moved to lock down most of Hubei Province, the virus has still spread to more than a dozen countries from France to the United States.

A lab in China had successfully grown the virus but had released only the genome sequence, not the sample itself, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Raina MacIntyre, who runs the Kirby Institute’s Biosecurity Research Programme, said the creation and sharing of the virus sample would hasten the development of potential vaccines, as drugs could be tested on animals injected with the disease.

“More people are able to culture the virus, they can use the information to develop drugs, vaccines, and better characterise the nature of the virus and the transmission,” MacIntyre has told Reuters.

As well as contributing to the creation of a vaccine, the Australia-grown sample could be used to generate an antibody test, which would allow detection of the virus in patients who had not shown symptoms, the Doherty Institute said.

“Having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities”, the Doherty Institute’s virus indentification laboratory head, Julian Druce, said in a statement.

The Australia-grown virus sample would be used to generate an antibody test, which would allow detection of the virus in patients who had not shown symptoms, as well as contributing to the creation of a vaccine, the institute said.

The virus was grown from a patient who had arrived at the institute on January 24.

The Peter Doherty Institute is a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital. The Kirby Institute is attached to the University of New South Wales.