LONDON, ONT. -- A team of researchers at Western University is starting work on a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19.

Stephen Barr, associate professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said in a statement that in the case of outbreaks like this it's important to work collaboratively with labs across Canada.

“An effective vaccine will have a tremendous impact on stopping the spread of the virus or alleviating the symptoms of the disease in infected individuals.”

A 'vaccine bank' could also then be established to rapidly handle future outbreaks of different strains of the coronavirus.

Western is home to Canada's newest Containment Level 3 facility, which will allow researchers to work safely.

The team will build on the work of Schulich Professor Chil-Yong Kang, who developed the widely lauded base for an HIV vaccine and has been working on a vaccine for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) – which highly related to the COVID-19.

Eric Arts, another professor at Schulich, explained, "It is possible to adapt the [MERS-CoV] vaccine strategy quite rapidly for SARS-CoV-2."

Barr, Kang and Arts, along with Professor Ryan Troyer, are leading the work, along with other experts.

The project is receiving $998,840 in fast-tracked funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – one of 96 projects being funded.

“We are in unprecedented modern times,” said Arts. “We can look back in human history, and while a pandemic of this magnitude has happened before, we didn’t have the same public health infrastructure and research technology that we have now.”