The U.K. has pledged £20 million ($26 million) to help fund the development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus, which has so far killed 362 people globally.
The funding will go to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an organization founded in 2017 to develop vaccines that can stop future epidemics.
"Vaccines are our best defense against a host of deadly diseases, including coronavirus," U.K. Health Minister Matt Hancock said in a press release on Monday.
CEPI, an international alliance of public and private organizations, announced on Friday that it had partnered with pharmaceutical firm CureVac to work on a coronavirus vaccine.
CEO Richard Hatchett said Monday that the donation from the U.K. came "at a crucial moment as the world races to respond to the emergence of a novel coronavirus."
"The rapid global spread and unique epidemiological characteristics of the virus are deeply concerning," he said. "Our hope is that, with our partners, we can get an investigational vaccine through to clinical testing in 16 weeks."
He added that the earliest stage of clinical trials, which would establish the safety of such a vaccine, would take around two to four months.
"This is an extremely ambitious timeline — indeed, it would be unprecedented in the field of vaccine development," Hatchett said. "It is important to remember that even if we are successful — and there can be no guarantee — there will be further challenges to navigate before we can make vaccines more broadly available."
The U.K. confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus on Friday after two members of the same family tested positive. They had reportedly been staying at a hotel in the city of York when they fell ill but have since been transferred to a specialist hospital in Newcastle.
Eleven Britons were flown back to the U.K. from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, on Sunday. Like the 83 people repatriated from Wuhan to the U.K. on Friday, they will be quarantined for 14 days. Australia, France and the U.S. have all announced similar measures to quarantine those returning to their home countries from China's Hubei province.
The Trump administration said last week that the U.S. government was fast-tracking work on a coronavirus vaccine, with a view to begin phase one trials within three months. A total of 11 cases of coronavirus have so far been reported in the United States.
Meanwhile, Germany's Research Minister Anja Karliczek said on Friday that she expected a vaccine for coronavirus to be developed within months, according to Reuters. Germany has so far confirmed eight cases in the country.
Drugmakers are racing to develop a vaccine, but medical experts have warned that it could take a while for it to be cleared for public use. Following the U.S. government's announcement it would fast-track efforts, medical professionals told CNBC that the entire process of developing a safe-to-use vaccine usually takes at least a year.
Pharmaceutical companies spent more than a year developing a vaccine for the 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed almost 800 people globally. Speaking to CNBC last week, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan said he expected it to take "over a year" to find a vaccine for coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson's Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels told CNBC he was confident the company could develop a vaccine in the coming months — but like Narasimhan, warned it could take around a year to bring it to the market.
A slew of other pharmaceutical companies, including Vir Biotechnology, Moderna and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, have also suggested they are working on a coronavirus vaccine.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can sometimes spread from animals to humans and cause a range of illnesses, according to the WHO. The new strain of coronavirus was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 31.
Chinese officials said Sunday that the virus had led to 361 deaths in mainland China, making its domestic death toll higher than that of the SARS epidemic. The Philippines reported the first death outside China on Sunday when a 44-year-old man from Wuhan passed away in the country.