Human trials of a potential vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus are set to begin in Britain this week.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says more than $82 million has been allocated to two projects - one by Oxford University and another by Imperial College London.
Hancock's announcement comes as the number of hospital deaths from coronavirus in the UK has risen by 823 to 17,337 people.
He said the Oxford project will be trialled on people from Friday (New Zealand time).
"This is uncertain science but I'm certain that we will throw everything we've got at finding a vaccine.
"The UK is at the forefront of the global effort. We've put more money than any other country into the global search for a vaccine."
Normally it would take years to get to this point, Hancock said.
"The upside of being the first country in the world to develop a successful vaccine is so huge that I am throwing everything at it," he said.
The Oxford group, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, is based at the Jenner Institute. They set to work as soon as the genetic code, or blueprint, of coronavirus became available in January.
Their vaccine uses a small section of this code packaged into a harmless virus. Scientists hope that delivering this into the body will teach the immune system how to fight off the real disease, without ever needing to become infected with coronavirus.
The plan is to test it on around 500 volunteers by mid-May and if that work proves successful, give it to thousands more volunteers.
Hancock said the government is investing in manufacturing capability so, if it works, it can be produced in scale.
The second project, led by Imperial College London's Department of Infectious Diseases, is appealing for volunteers.
In a tweet, the college's trust said it was looking for healthy people aged between 18 and 55, and that successful applicants would be paid up to £625 ($NZ1280) for taking part.
The Imperial College NHS Trust are looking for healthy volunteers to participate in a #COVID19 #vaccine trial, for which they will receive up to £190-£625 reimbursement for time, travel and contribution to the trial. (1/2)— Imperial Medicine (@ImperialMed) April 21, 2020
Professor Robin Shattock and colleagues at Imperial are using pieces of raw genetic code which, once injected into the body, should start producing bits of viral proteins which the immune system again can learn to fight.
- BBC / Reuters