Scientists in the UK will start testing a vaccine for coronavirus next week, according to reports.
The drug produced at Oxford University will initially be tested on animals at the Porton Down Science Campus, in Wiltshire, and if all goes well human trials will begin next month, the Times reported.
The second phase on humans will reportedly be fast-tracked before results are known for previous tests on animals due to the severity of the pandemic.
But the drug will only be approved once expanded Phase III trials are completed but key workers may have access to the vaccine earlier.
A further 39 people in England were confirmed to have died after testing positive for the virus on Friday, bringing the UK death toll to 177.
Researchers from Public Health England's (PHE) and Liverpool and Bristol universities have already managed to produce a replica of COVID-19 that will be used in the tests.
Professor Miles Carroll, PHE’s Deputy Director of National Infection Service, said: “Public Health England is uniquely positioned to support and drive the country’s hunt for a coronavirus vaccine – using tried and tested methods for the rapid development of interventions for emerging diseases.”
Director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute Adrian Hill admitted the process to get a vaccine approved was being accelerated.
He told the Guardian: “We will follow all standard trial safety requirements, but as soon as we have a vaccine that’s working, we anticipate there will be an accelerated pathway to get it deployed to save lives.
“The more vaccine we can provide sooner, the better.”
A number of other vaccines and treatments are also being developed across the world to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
Boris Johnson has announced the closure of pubs and restaurants as the country continues to battle the pandemic.
He acknowledged the ban went against the “freedom-loving instincts” of the British people but he said it was essential to achieve the 75% reduction in “unnecessary” social contacts required to reduce the rate of infection.
It was not clear exactly how the measures – backed by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will be enforced, although the Prime Minister indicated it could be done through the licensing system.