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San Diego Lab Tapped To Rapidly Develop Vaccine For China's Novel Coronavirus

Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development, stands in a lab at Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego's Sorrento Valley, Jan. 23, 2020.
Tarryn Mento
Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development, stands in a lab at Inovio Pharmaceuticals in San Diego's Sorrento Valley, Jan. 23, 2020.
The Sorrento Valley facility uses a computer optimization strategy that can fast-track vaccine design.

San Diego researchers at a local pharmaceutical lab are working to quickly develop a vaccine in response to the growing and deadly coronavirus outbreak that originated in China. Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Sorrento Valley announced Thursday it received a $9 million grant to create a vaccine that's ready for human testing by the summer.

The award is part of a larger effort to speed up the production of vaccines to better respond to global epidemics. The current outbreak that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, known as novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, has killed at least 26 people and infected more than 800 in eight countries.

Kate Broderick, senior vice president of research and development at Inovio, said the lab's computer technology allowed it to design a vaccine for the novel coronavirus within just hours of reviewing the genetic sequencing earlier this month — a much quicker pace than the traditional approach of growing proteins in eggs.

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"That whole process can take multiple, multiple months if not years," Broderick said.

The vaccine will be manufactured within the next few weeks for animal testing before being administered in human clinical trials.

The lab received funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, to create the new vaccine. Broderick said the goal is to complete the first round of human testing by the third quarter of this year. CEPI previously partnered with Inovio to develop a vaccine for MERS, also caused by a coronavirus. That vaccine has already been used on humans with positive results and will soon be tested in Saudi Arabia, where the virus is still active.

Broderick said the lab also succeeded responding to the Zika virus.

RELATED: Wuhan Coronavirus 101: What We Do — And Don't — Know About A Newly Identified Disease

"We went from virus sequence to treating our first patient within seven months and for this, for this particular vaccine, we hope to be even faster than that," said Broderick, who is part of the president’s effort to overhaul how that flu vaccine is produced, which can take up to six months.

CEPI, an international collaboration of public, private and nonprofit entities, also allocated funds for novel coronavirus vaccine development at two other locations.

The U.S. reported only one case of novel coronavirus. Public health officials confirmed a Washington man contracted the illness on Jan. 21.

San Diego County's lead infectious disease expert Dr. Eric McDonald said the risk to residents is low.

"The number of people that come to this area from Wuhan is very small, but we are taking the threat very seriously," said McDonald, medical director of the county's epidemiology and immunization services branch.

McDonald said the medical community is prepared to receive any potential novel coronavirus patient but residents should be more worried about the flu. Thirty-two San Diegans have died from influenza so far this season.

San Diego Lab Tapped To Rapidly Develop Vaccine For China's Novel Coronavirus
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.