With the genetic code in hand, scientists can start vaccine development work without needing a sample of the virus
A relatively new US vaccine research group will be testing the first of a number of potential experimental vaccines against the deadly SARS-coronavirus that is spreading in China and beyond.
In cooperation with the US National Institutes of Health the research group would conduct human trials for emerging health threats, the Japan Time reported.
Three months from gene sequencing to initial human testing would be the fastest the agency has ever gotten such a vaccine off the ground, said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within NIH.
On the other hand, drug-maker company Johnson & Johnson confirmed working on a coronavirus vaccine two weeks ago and expressed confidence on being able to successfully bring it to the market within a year.
Dr Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson told CNBC in a Squawk Box" interview that "We have dozens of scientists working on this so we're pretty confident we can get something made that will work and stay active for the longer term".
"We'll see in the next few weeks how this goes," he added.
Chinese scientists were able to quickly identify the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus, and officials posted it publicly within a few days, allowing scientific research teams to get to work right away.
With the genetic code in hand, scientists can start vaccine development work without needing a sample of the virus.
Stoffels said the pharmaceutical company needed to start from scratch on this vaccine, much like how it operated in the Zika outbreak. Though Johnson & Johnson could shave two to three months off of that due to technological advances, he said.
"We are going to take an approach with at least five different constructs and different partners and collaborations all over the world in order to see which part of the virus we can use to make an effective vaccine and develop a model that we can invest in," he added.
Fred Hassan, former CEO of Schering-Plough, said later on "Squawk on the Street" that Stoffels' estimate on when Big Pharma might have a vaccine ready for market is accurate. "I believe we'll get the thing done in less than a year."
Hassan also pointed to new technology and scientific advances as factors helping streamline vaccine efforts.
Ex-Medtronic CEO Bill George told "Squawk on the Street" that he expects the outbreak to be "rough" for the next few months as China fights to contain the virus.
Drugmaker Moderna, which specializes in vaccines, also told CNBC last week that it is working with U.S. government health agencies to develop a vaccine for the current strain of coronavirus.
That team hopes to make an RNA vaccine based on one of the crown-like spikes on the surface of the coronavirus that gives the family of viruses their name. Unlike many vaccines, this approach would not expose people to even a crippled form of the virus itself.
During the deadly 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), it took U.S. scientists 20 months to go from genetic sequencing to the first phase of human trials. By that time, the outbreak was under control.
This time, research groups worldwide are already executing plans to test vaccines, treatments and other countermeasures to stop the newly identified virus from spreading globally.
They are attacking from several angles, with global health and epidemic response agencies hoping at least one treatment will be in human trials within a few months.
At the University of Queensland in Australia, scientists backed by a global health emergency group, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said they are working on what they describe as a "molecular clamp" vaccine. This approach adds a gene to stabilize viral proteins and trick the body into thinking it is seeing a live virus and create antibodies against it.
Keith Chappell, an expert in the University's school of chemistry and molecular biosciences, said the technology is designed as "a platform approach to generate vaccines against a range of human and animal viruses."
It has already shown promising results in lab tests on other dangerous viruses such as Ebola and the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — a cousin of SARS and the Wuhan virus.
Novavax, which already has a vaccine in development against MERS, says it is now working on one for the Wuhan coronavirus.
Scientists also are turning to infection-fighting proteins known as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), which were developed against the SARS and MERS coronaviruses.
The hope is that similarities with the Wuhan virus will offer enough overlap in the antibodies to help people infected in the China outbreak.
Vir Biotechnology Chief Scientific Officer Herbert Virgin said his company has a library of monoclonal antibodies that have shown some success against SARS and MERS in lab tests.
Some of these antibodies have been shown to neutralize coronaviruses, Virgin said, and "may have the potential to treat and prevent (the) Wuhan coronavirus."
The outbreak, which began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, has already sickened around 4,515 as of January 27 in China as death toll climbs to 106. Cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, France, the United States, Australia and Malaysia.