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China has approved human testing for a potential coronavirus vaccine cultivated within insect cells, local government in the southwestern city of Chengdu said on Saturday. China is in a global race to develop cost-effective vaccines to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using insect cells to grow proteins for the coronavirus vaccine - a first in China - could speed up large-scale production, the city government of Chengdu said in a notice on social media WeChat.The vaccine, developed by West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, has received approval from the National Medical Products Administration to enter a clinical trial, the notice said.

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When tested on monkeys, the vaccine was shown to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections with no obvious side-effects, the notice added. Chinese scientists are already leading work on at least eight other potential coronavirus vaccines that have entered different stages of clinical trials.

Foreign players, including Germany’s BioNTech (BNTX.O) and Inovio Pharma (INO.O) in the United States, have also cooperated with local firms to test their experimental vaccines in China.

The increasingly common D614G mutation of the novel coronavirus found in Europe, North America and parts of Asia may be more infectious but appears less deadly, according to Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases.

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Evidence suggests the proliferation of this mutation in some parts of the world has coincided with a drop in death rates, suggesting it is less lethal, said Tambyah, adding that most viruses tend to become less virulent as they mutate.