Testing of Coronavirus 'Cure' Set to Start in Australia in Weeks, First Participant in U.S. Vaccine Trial Due to Get First Dose Today

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, scientists in Australia and the U.S. believe they are a step closer to developing a vaccine and treatment to fight the new coronavirus.

Professor David Paterson, director of the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, told Australian website News.com.au that his team used two existing drugs to deactivate the new coronavirus named SARS-CoV- 2 (not to be confused with the virus which causes SARS), in test tubes. One drug is used against HIV and the other, called chloroquine, treats malaria.

Paterson said the HIV drug was given to some of the first patients to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia, and caused the "disappearance of the virus." The patients have since recovered, he said.

The patients "all did very, very well when they were treated with the HIV drug.

"That's reassuring ... that we're onto something really good here," he said.

The drugs could be called a "treatment or a cure," and a "potentially effective treatment" if found to be effective, he said.

However, Paterson stressed it is important to test the drugs methodically "to give patients "the absolute best treatment rather than just someone's guesses or someone's anecdotal experiences from a few people."

"There have already been patients treated with these in Australia and there's been successful outcomes but it hasn't been done in a controlled or a comparative way," he said.

By the end of March, the team plans to have "very rapidly" enrolled COVID-19 patients on a clinical trial to test the treatment in 50 hospitals across Australia. They will investigate whether the drugs are most effective together or individually.

Meanwhile in the U.S., scientists are due to give a participant in a clinical trial for a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 their first dose of the preparation on Monday, a government official to the Associated Press news agency on a condition of anonymity, as the decision had not been made public.

The trial is the first for a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 in people, according to Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle where it's being conducted. The investigational vaccine was created by the biotech company Moderna.

Participants can't be infected by the investigational vaccine called mRNA-1273 as it does not contain SARS-CoV-2, the institution said in a news release. Instead, it contains a genetic code made in a lab, which makes the process of developing the preparation faster.

Over a period of 14 months, a total of 45 participants will take part in the first phase of the trial which will test how safe different doses of the vaccine are, and whether it kicks the immune system into action. The scientists will investigate how effective the vaccine is later down the line. Participants in the trial are required to be aged between 18 to 55-years-old and can't have health conditions or take medications which affect the immune system. Each will receive a total of $1,100 for taking part in the trial.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, over 169,000 cases have been confirmed and more than 77,000 people have recovered. A total of 6,513 people have died. As indicated in the map by Statista below the virus has reached every continent except Antarctica.

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A map showing cases of COVID-19 around the world, as of March 16.

This article has been updated with a map.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
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A scientist unrelated to the research in the U.S. and Australia is pictured working at a French university on February 5, 2020 as they try to find an effective treatment against COVID-19. JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images