The scientists, at the city-state's Duke-NUS Medical School, say
their technique needs just days to evaluate potential vaccines
provided by Arcturus Therapeutics, an American biotech firm the
school has partnered with for the trials.
That timeframe compares with the months usually required for testing
based on human responses.
"You can know from the way the genes change - what genes are turned
on, what are turned off," said Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the
school's emerging infectious diseases program.
Swift assessment of such changes triggered by a vaccine allows the
scientists to determine its effectiveness and side effects, instead
of relying solely on responses from humans who receive it, he added.
Currently, there are no approved medicines or preventive vaccines
targeting the virus, with most patients receiving only supportive
care, such as help with their breathing. Experts have said getting a
vaccine ready could take a year or more.
Ooi said he planned to start testing vaccines in mice in about a
week, with human trials expected in the second half of the year.
Pharmaceutical firms and researchers around the globe are racing to
develop vaccines and treatments for the virus, which has infected
more than 377,000 people.
[to top of second column]
These efforts include Gilead Sciences Inc's experimental antiviral drug
remdesivir and a plasma-derived therapy from Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.
In a key step towards developing diagnostic methods, the Duke-NUS scientists
helped culture the virus in late January, days after Singapore confirmed its
first infection. That made it the third country, outside China, to culture the
Another first was a test to detect virus antibodies even in those who had
already recovered, crucial in containment efforts that have won global praise
From discovery to licensing, vaccine development in the past could take more
than 10 years, but Ooi said science can now offer a much faster response.
"Everyone is racing ahead, but we are kind of writing the playbook as the game
is being played," he added.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by John Geddie and
[© 2020 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2020 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.