With Pressure Growing, Global Race For A Coronavirus Vaccine Intensifies

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WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Four months after a mysterious new virus began its deadly march around the globe, the search for a vaccine has taken on an intensity never before seen in medical research, with huge implications for public health, the world economy and politics.

Seven of the roughly 90 projects being pursued by governments, pharmaceutical makers, biotech innovators and academic laboratories have reached the stage of clinical trials.

With political leaders - not least US President Donald Trump - increasingly pressing for progress, and with big potential profits at stake for the industry, drugmakers and researchers have signalled that they are moving ahead at unheard-of speeds.

But the whole enterprise remains dogged by uncertainty about whether any coronavirus vaccine will prove effective, how fast it could be made available to millions or billions of people and whether the rush - compressing a process that can take 10 years into 10 months - will sacrifice safety.

Some experts say the more immediately promising field might be the development of treatments to speed recovery from Covid-19, an approach that has generated some optimism in the last week through initially encouraging research results on remdesivir, an antiviral drug previously tried in fighting Ebola.

"Putting aside the commercial value, there would be great geopolitical significance to being the first to develop a treatment or vaccine. We will use all the tools we have to safeguard American research."

The intensity of the global research effort is such that governments and companies are building production lines before they have anything to produce.

"We are going to start ramping up production with the companies involved," Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the federal government's top expert on infectious diseases, said on NBC this week.

"You don't wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing."

Two of the leading entrants in the United States, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, have announced partnerships with manufacturing firms, with Johnson & Johnson promising 1 billion doses of an as-yet-undeveloped vaccine by the end of next year.