SINGAPORE: Scientists from Duke-NUS Medical School are working with international partners to develop a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine, with plans for tests to start this year.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 25) that the Duke-NUS Medical School has teamed up with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and other international partners to come up with the clinical trial.

Countries are working together to identify vaccine candidates and to conduct tests.

“For vaccines, scientists all over the world have successfully isolated and cultured the virus, which will aid the development of a vaccine,” Mr Gan said.

The World Health Organization estimates that the earliest a vaccine will be ready would be sometime in 2021, he added.

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A COVID-19 therapeutic workgroup, comprising of members from various hospitals across different disciplines and the Health Science Authority (HSA), has been set up to look at using repurposed drugs with antiviral activity to treat infected patients in Singapore.

Mr Gan said the group will work on guidelines for using the drugs, which include anti-HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir, Interferon Beta-1B and hydroxychloroquine.

Last month, the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan told reporters a small number of coronavirus patients are being treated with anti-HIV drugs Lopinavir and Ritonavir.

He said MOH will need to see the results of the trials done in China and other places and determine how effective they are.

“The results so far from other studies have looked quite promising,” Prof Tan had said.

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The National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, together with the Singapore Blood Bank, have started donor recruitment to collect convalescent blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, Mr Gan said.

As of Tuesday, 155 patients in Singapore have recovered from the disease.

“Our doctors have also been participating in international clinical trials, with collaborators such as the US National Institutes of Health,” the health minister said.

“We do not know how long the pandemic will last, but we have to plan on the basis that COVID-19 will be with us for a long while, maybe till the end of the year or longer, and ensure that we have the resources and capabilities to see us through.”

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