Human trials of a vaccine against coronavirus are due to start in April, with dozens of laboratories around the world competing to be the first to develop a drug.
Researchers have been working against the clock to produce a preventive jab or pill since China genetically sequenced the virus in January.
Several labs have prototype vaccines that are being trialled in animals, and many are confident they will move to human testing next month.
If proved safe and effective, larger "live situation" trials will be carried out to see if inoculation works in a natural scenario. If successful, a vaccine could be widely available early next year.
Prof Robin Shattock and his team at the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London (ICL) developed a candidate vaccine within 14 days of getting the genetic sequence.
They have been testing it on animals since February 10 and hope to move to clinical trials in the summer if they secure funding. Rather than creating a traditional antibody jab, the ICL drug works by effectively injecting new genetic code into a muscle, instructing it to make a protein found on the surface of coronavirus, which triggers a protective immune response.
"We have the kind of technology to be able to generate a vaccine with a speed that's never been realised before," said Prof Shattock. "We may not be the first, but it only requires one group to get there. At some point we might say, 'Somebody else is ahead, we should stop working.' While we want to go the whole way, we're also prepared to stand down."
Earlier this week, executives from drug giants Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi and Pfizer met with Donald Trump to assure the US president they were making rapid progress in vaccines.
To date, a total of 35 companies and institutions are working on the problem worldwide, with the US furthest ahead. Dr Antony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted that a vaccine would be ready in 12 to 18 months. (© Daily Telegraph London)