Boris Johnson has pledged a further £46 million for research into a coronavirus vaccine and rapid diagnostic tests.
The Prime Minister announced the funding during a tour of a Bedfordshire laboratory, where British scientists are working on a quick and cheap way to diagnose coronavirus.
There is currently no vaccine available to protect people against Covid-19, but Mr Johnson said he hoped one will be ready in about a year.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has previously said the UK “will not have a vaccine available for the first wave” of a pandemic, but that it is still important to develop one for any future waves.
Today the government published the action plan for COVID-19. It outlines what we are doing now, and what we intend to do, to contain, delay, research and mitigate. We need to ensure our actions (including tradeoffs) and our timing are grounded on science. https://t.co/Ugz9PBQZwG
— Professor Chris Whitty (@CMO_England) March 3, 2020
Global human trials of eight possible vaccines could start later this year. But firms would then face the task of mass-producing and distributing them.
Public Health England (PHE) has developed methods of testing for coronavirus, but more rapid tests are needed as these currently rely on samples being sent to a lab.
The package announced by the PM comes under the “research” phase of the Government’s “battle plan” to contain, delay, mitigate and research coronavirus.
Downing Street said the UK’s investment into Covid-19 vaccine research is now worth £65 million, with £91 million in total for international work to stop the spread of the virus.
Mr Johnson spoke to scientists at the Mologic lab, which is ramping up efforts to provide more testing in people’s homes.
This will mean patients can receive treatment more quickly at home, reducing the risk of them passing the virus to others by going outdoors.
Any rapid diagnostic test could also be sent to other countries with no lab capability or whose medical facilities are not as advanced.
A new test will therefore be jointly manufactured in the UK and Senegal.
In a statement, the PM said: “Keeping the British people safe is my number one priority, and that’s why I’ve set out our four-part plan to contain, delay, mitigate and research coronavirus.
“We are ensuring the country is prepared for the current outbreak, guided by the science at every stage. But we also need to invest now in researching the vaccines that could help prevent future outbreaks.
“I’m very proud that UK experts – backed by government funding – are on the front line of global efforts to do just that.”
If you do one thing today — make it this. Help protect your loved ones and share official NHS #coronavirus advice with your friends and family directly via @WhatsApp. 📱https://t.co/u6tbjbOprZpic.twitter.com/B2kqiiMtRC
— NHS England and NHS Improvement (@NHSEngland) March 6, 2020
Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson added: “What we are announcing today is a £46 million package of investment in UK science which will in time deliver a vaccine – some say in about a year – but also help us to have rapid test kits that anyone can use quickly and effectively to tell whether they have coronavirus.”
The Government’s Chief Scientific Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “Rapid testing is going to be key to managing this outbreak, but ultimately vaccines are going to provide the long-term protection we need.
“The UK has some of the world’s leading scientists and this money will help in our fight to tackle this new disease.”