LONDON (Reuters) – A global coalition set up to fight epidemic diseases issued a call on Friday for $2 billion to support the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus that is causing COVID-19 infections around the world.

Describing the outbreak as an “unprecedented threat in terms of its global impact”, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said that while containment measures would help slow the spread, a vaccine was key to longer-term control.

“It is increasingly clear that containment measures for COVID-19 can only slow down its spread and the virus is now entering a stage of unprecedented threat in terms of its global impact,” said CEPI’s chief executive Richard Hatchett

“It is critical that we … invest in the development of a vaccine that will prevent people from getting sick.”

CEPI announced within weeks of the start of the outbreak that it would put $100 million into an initial program of vaccine development with the aim of having potential vaccine candidates in early stage clinical trials in as little as 16 weeks.

But on Friday it said these funds would be fully allocated by the end of March. “Without immediate additional financial contributions the vaccine programs we have begun will not be able to progress and ultimately will not deliver the vaccines that the world needs,” Hatchett said.

CEPI launched in 2017 with initial funding of $460 million from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust global health charity. Its aim was to speed up the process of developing vaccines against new and unknown diseases.

The British government on Friday announced another 20 million pounds ($26 million) of additional funding, beyond 30 million of funding it had previously given to CEPI, and urged other donors to join the efforts to find a vaccine.

The number of coronavirus infections worldwide surpassed 100,000 on Friday.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)