The Drug Controller General of India has approved pharmaceutical firm Zydus Cadila to start Phase I and Phase II human clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine. This is the second vaccine after Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN to get the approval.

Drug manufacturers around the world are racing to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus; a novel virus is one that has never previously been identified in humans, making the task of creating a vaccine that much harder.

India, a leading manufacturer of vaccines and generic medicines, is expected to play a key role in this race, with several institutes working on different drugs. There are at least 17 vaccines being tested on humans across the world currently.

In May the government said as many as 30 groups were working on a vaccine. A top scientific advisor to the government said efforts that normally took 15 years and cost US$300 million were being condensed into a 12-month period.

Similar efforts are being mounted across the world, with a number of different drugs in different stages of trial. Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) said AstraZeneca's vaccine was probably the leading candidate.

The British firm has already begun large-scale, mid-stage human trials of the drug developed by researchers at University of Oxford.

Global stock markets were upbeat on Thursday after a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech was found to be well tolerated in early-stage human trials.

Other possible vaccines being tested include one by American firm Moderna, which is scheduled to go into Phase III clinical trials from mid-July.

China's military has been given permission to use a vaccine candidate developed in association with CanSino Biologics. According to Reuters the drug showed some promise in early clinical trials. The Ad5-nCoV is one of the eight vaccine candidates developed by Chinese firms to move into human trials.

As pharma firms scramble to find that big breakthrough, which could mean millions in profits and millions of lives saved, experts have warned that early vaccines may come with limitations on what they can do.

The pandemic has already affected over five lakh victims worldwide, including 16,475 in India. There are nearly 1.1 crore confirmed cases, including nearly 6.2 lakh in India - the fourth worst-affected country.

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