The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have launched a “rapid response” initiative for Coronavirus, to the tune of £20 million.

Researchers are being invited to submit proposals for projects to tackle the novel outbreak, which is also known as 2019-nCoV.

The investment is being launched in hopes that UK academic and industry experts, working with international partners, will initiate new and additional research as quickly as possible. The NIHR says that projects will contribute to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and management of the virus, including the study of behaviours that may contribute to how it is spread and can be contained.

The coronavirus outbreak has officially been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organisation, and confirmed cases in the UK were announced on Friday 31 January.

Chief medical officer for England and co-lead for NIHR, Professor Chris Whitty said of the funding: “This call for research is an example of how the UK’s health research sector can move swiftly to tackle issues of global importance.

“The NIHR and UK Research and Innovation are launching this call together to ensure that every scientific avenue is explored. An important part of this call is research into possible vaccines for the novel coronavirus, prioritising those that have the potential to be developed rapidly.”

The projects will run over a maximum 18-month period, ensuring “timely insights into the current epidemic.” The two funding calls have deadlines of 13 February (active intervention development) and 27 February (diagnostics and understanding).

China’s National Health Commission has confirmed a death toll rise to 908, surpassing the toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3, according to official data.

In recent weeks Johnson & Johnson (J&J) also announced a “multi-pronged” response to the virus, which included efforts to broadly collaborate with others in order to screen a library of antiviral therapies, hoping to identify compounds with antiviral activity against the virus.

Using its AdVac and PER.C6 technologies - the same technologies that were used in the development and manufacturing of Janssen's investigational Ebola vaccine - J&J revealed plans to also try and rapidly upscale production of the optimal vaccine candidate.

GSK is also lending a hand, making its established pandemic vaccine adjuvant platform technology available to enhance the development of a much-needed vaccine.