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Local company joins race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, as WHO calls outbreak a global emergency

Biotechnology company GeoVax is working in partnership with Wuhan, China-based BravoVax to create a vaccine targeting the coronavirus

SMYRNA, Ga. — Currently, there is no available vaccine for the coronavirus, but a metro Atlanta company is racing to develop one.

From its laboratory in Smyrna, GeoVax is a biotechnology company that can boast a track record of creating preventive vaccines. They helped formulate vaccines for HIV, Ebola, Zika and other viruses that are either entering, or already being used in clinical trials.

This week the company announced they will now begin targeting the coronavirus, in a partnership with BravoVax - a vaccine developer based in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. 

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The two companies' relationship, though, began before the coronavirus started spreading from the Chinese city, according to GeoVax's CEO David Dodd.

Dodd told 11Alive's Joe Henke his company uses an approach to make vaccines known as the MVA-VLP platform. Dodd said the approach is both efficient in creating the construct to build a vaccine from, and also effective because it often creates vaccines that are a single dose, instead of requiring multiple-doses or booster shots.

GeoVax is using genetic sequences from the coronavirus outbreak to create a vaccine candidate. Once developed, testing can then begin.

"In general, and I emphasize the word in general, we are able to develop the construct of the vaccine, meaning the basis of the vaccine to start some form of testing - animal testing, immunogenicity testing - usually within three months. So it is rather quick," Dodd explained. 

"Going beyond that into clinical is really a function of what regulatory authorities determine is the appropriate protocol to follow," he added. "Depending on that will determine how quickly you have something that may be a candidate to go to humans."

Meaning having a vaccine available to humans, will most likely take more than six months and, realistically, longer than a year.

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GeoVax is in a race to develop a vaccine as other biotechnology companies and researchers around the country and world are tackling the same problem.

Mary Hauser, GeoVax's senior scientist, mentioned while time is of the essence during an outbreak, they can use research from their past work to hopefully accelerate the vaccine development process.

"This virus is very similar to SARS, and we can build on the foundation of literature that exists pertaining to the development of the SARS vaccine and apply it toward a new vaccine for this particular outbreak," Hauser said.

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By using their partnership with BravoVax, GeoVax's team is hopeful they will have an advantage in developing a vaccine.

"They (BravoVax) have a very strong relationships within the Chinese CDC and Chinese regulatory public health authorities. We have such here in the US," Dodd said. "Working together, we think we can move much quicker along with the other entities that we have brought in to this initiative to try to get a product that is a candidate for testing."

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