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A potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Chinese researchers showed promise in trials in monkeys, triggering antibodies and raising no safety issues, researchers said, and a human trial with more than 1,000 participants is under way.

The vaccine candidate, called BBIBP-CorV, induced high-level neutralizing antibodies that can block the virus from infecting cells in monkeys, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits, researchers said in a paper published online by the medical journal Cell on Saturday.

“These results support the further evaluation of BBIBP-CorV in a clinical trial,” researchers said in the paper.

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BBIBP-CorV, developed by Beijing Institute of Biological Products affiliated to state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), is among five candidates China is testing in humans.

More than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development around the world. Among front runners currently in human trials are being developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Sanofi and China’s CanSino Biologics.

As well as appearing safe and able to generate an immune response in animals, BBIBP-CorV did not appear to trigger antibodies that could boost the infection – a phenomenon known as antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE)– the researchers said, although this does not necessarily guarantee ADE won’t occur in human tests.

Apart from BBIBP-CorV, Sinopharm, which has invested 1 billion yuan ($141.40-million) in vaccine projects, is testing in humans another vaccine candidate developed by its Wuhan-based unit. The two shots have been given to more than 2,000 people in clinical trials.

The coronavirus might have been spreading in China as early as August last year, according to Harvard Medical School research based on satellite images of hospital travel patterns and search engine data, but China dismissed the report as "ridiculous." Reuters

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

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