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In a major breakthrough for global preclinical response to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak, a team led by an overseas citizen of India has grown the first batch of the virus outside China in sufficient stocks to cater to forthcoming studies in the highsecurity lab of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.
While researchers at Australia’s Doherty Institute had last week managed to isolate the virus from a human sample, the growth of the virus at CSIRO assumes importance given that it has the mega scale needed to conduct preclinical studies.
Confirming the development, Professor SS Vasan, who leads the CSIRO Dangerous Pathogens Team, told TOI: “We thank our Doherty Institute colleagues who shared their isolate with us promptly. It is quicker to work with the real virus to expedite preclinical studies on the relative efficacy of vaccine candidates under development.”
Vasan, who is the principal investigator of CSIRO’s preclinical response project in partnership with the Coalition for Emergency Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to accelerate preclinical evaluation of vaccines, said: “My colleagues at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory are also working on diagnostics, surveillance and response. Another part of the CSIRO (Manufacturing) is supporting the scaleup of vaccine antigens being developed by the University of Queensland.”
While he said his lab is now working on further increasing the virus stock, he maintained CSIRO did not give out the specifics of the quantity. On what this means to the global preclinical response to the novel coronavirus, Vasan said: “Aside from fuelling the essential vaccine preclinical studies, it will accelerate the development and evaluation of therapeutics to complement vaccines.”
An alumnus of BITS Pilani and IISc-Bengaluru, Vasan moved to Trinity College, Oxford, on a Rhodes scholarship. After his doctorate there, he worked for Oxford spin-out Oxitec on dengue, chikungunya and zika, and then at the equivalent high-security facility in Porton Down, England.
Coronavirus has claimed 563 lives in China and health officials say there were 28,018 confirmed cases as of Thursday. According to World Health Organisation, which has declared the outbreak as a global emergency, coronaviruses “are a large family of viruses found in both animals and humans. Some infect people and are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).”

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