British scientists claim to have made a breakthrough in the race against time for a vaccine to protect millions against the killer coronavirus.
Infection specialist Professor Robin Shattock, of Imperial College London, revealed his team plan to begin trials of their experimental jab on animals next week.
The team will then move onto humans in the summer, if they can achieve funding and that early tests are successful.
Researchers across the world are desperately trying to find a vaccine against the SARS-like infection, which can cause pneumonia.
The current record time for producing a vaccine is for Zika, which took academics seven months to go from the lab to human trials.
Doctors fear if it takes that long this time, the unnamed coronavirus could already have swept the globe.
Almost 500 people have already died and 25,000 have been infected, with cases recorded in almost 30 countries or territories outside China.
Professor Shattock told Sky News that standard approaches to creating a vaccine can take between two and three years before it gets ‘to the clinic’.
But he added: ‘We have gone from that sequence to generating a candidate in the laboratory in 14 days.
‘And we will have it in animal models by the beginning of next week. We’ve short-tracked that part.
‘The next phase will be to move that from early animal testing into the first human studies.’
He revealed that his Imperial academic team believes ‘with adequate funding we could do that in a period of a few months’.
Professor Shattock’s claim comes after a team in Hong Kong last week claimed to have made a vaccine that could protect against the killer coronavirus.
Professor Shattock admitted the vaccine would be too late for the current outbreak – but added it will be vital if further cases crop up.
He said: ‘We may see a second wave come through on a global basis and if it comes a vaccine will be really important and would be in place to tackle that.’
Britain has already pledged £20million to CEPI, an international agency set up to deal with health emergencies such as the coronavirus outbreak.
But the team warned it will be at least one year before it could dished out to humans, with safety trials on animals and humans needed first.
The team at the University of Hong Kong are not the only ones to be working to find a vaccine against the deadly virus, still yet to be officially named.
The US National Institutes of Health announced last weekend that it plans to begin tests of experimental jabs in April.
Facing the prospect of a pandemic, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is thought to have ordered an acceleration of vaccine trials.
Another scientist last week claimed a coronavirus vaccine she is developing could be tested on humans in two months’ time.
Dr Kate Broderick, from Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania, said her team is the closest to developing a vaccine to protect against the Wuhan coronavirus.
They are testing the jab, named INO-4800, on animals and hope to start human trials in eight weeks’ time.
It comes as senior government sources today claimed that the UK was considering a blanket ban on all direct flights from China.
The US, Australia and New Zealand have already put a stop to any foreign citizens entering their countries on commercial flights if they have come from China.
Ministers are mulling over whether to follow suit, but any UK measures will depend on whether restrictions could be co-ordinated with other countries – including the EU.
Italy has taken the dramatic step of banning all flights from the country – a move which is said to have caused deep irritation among European states.
While the UK technically left the EU on January 31, it remains within the bloc for immigration purposes until the end of the year.
The government has already faced huge criticism over its ‘shambolic’ response to the coronavirus that has claimed 493 lives and infected 24,000 worldwide.
Teams of doctors are at main UK airports to meet flights from China, with seven or eight doctors working shifts at Heathrow.
But passengers have slammed screening efforts as ‘pathetic’ and revealed that they are being simply ‘waved through’ rather than properly checked for symptoms.
All hospitals in England have been ordered to create ‘coronavirus priority assessment pods’ to test for the disease in a bid to ‘avoid a surge in emergency departments’.
From inside the pods patients will be told to phone the NHS 111 helpline and then assessed and the A&E staff updated by phone and warned if they need testing.
Only two cases have been diagnosed in the UK but the country is on high alert for more and has warned all citizens currently in China to try and leave the country.
The Government insists the NHS is well-prepared in case the infection spreads here, and the leaked letter suggests the entire country is bracing for the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will host a government Cobra meeting this afternoon to discuss the ongoing outbreak.
Yesterday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sparked panic as he urged all 30,000 British nationals to to flee China to save themselves from the deadly disease.
The Foreign Office fears if Britons don’t get out soon they will be stranded as flights and other transport links are cancelled.
Authorities will still help evacuate those stuck in the city of Wuhan, which is at the epicentre of the outbreak, but warned the last UK-led airlift will be on Sunday.
In other developments today, Hong Kong has announced all travellers from mainland China will be quarantined for two weeks.
While 10 passengers quarantined on a cruise ship near Japan have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Another cruise liner in Hong Kong was quarantined after three passengers were diagnosed with the virus.