The southern hemisphere’s first human trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine have started in Australia. 131 people aged between 18-59 are involved in the program in Melbourne and Brisbane.

The potential vaccine, NVX-CoV2373, is being developed by the American biotech company Novavax. It started working on the drug in January when the COVID-19 outbreak began in China. It aims to boost the body’s immune response and stimulate high levels of neutralizing antibodies.

If the vaccine works, researchers hope 100 million doses can be made by the end of this year and 1.5 billion next year.

Researchers say that “vaccines are miracles and have a great way of protecting populations against these severe diseases.”

Dr Paul Griffin is an infectious diseases expert who is involved in the Australian COVID 19 trial. He hopes the drug will successfully attack the virus and be ready for use within months.

“We look for antibodies and the type and number of antibodies, and then we take some things out of the subjects through those blood tests and do a lot of laboratory experiments to show that it neutralizes the virus. The company manufacturing the vaccine have already started that scaling-up process, so they are already making a lot of doses of this vaccine. So if we can prove it is safe and effective then, potentially, by the end of the year there will be significant number of doses available,” Griffin said.

Australian authorities say the trial is a significant step forward in the global race for a coronavirus vaccine. Some participants will receive a placebo while others will be administered Novavax’s drug.

Early results are expected in July, and scientists expect “some conclusive results by the end of this year”. Phase two trials would take place with thousands of volunteers in several countries. Volunteers are still needed, and the research team has stressed that no live coronavirus is used in experiments on people.

Novavax has received $388 million from the Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. There are more than 100 potential coronavirus vaccines in development, and about a dozen have made it to the human trial stage.

It is a global race potentially worth billions of dollars to those who can find a safe and reliable treatment for a virus that has killed almost 350,000 people around the world.