• “They are working on a promising technology to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus," the former German defence minister said in a online video message shortly before she was to join talks with the 27 EU leaders.

BRUSSELS: The president of the European Commission said Tuesday that, after speaking to a German biotech firm, she hopes a vaccine against the novel coronavirus strain will be available this year.

Brussels' top official Ursula von der Leyen has held talks with executives from CureVac, a company that has received an offer of 80 million euros ($88 million) in EU financial support for its research.

“They are working on a promising technology to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus," the former German defence minister said in a online video message shortly before she was to join talks with the 27 EU leaders.

“The European Union is providing them up to 80 million euros and I hope that with this support we can have a vaccine on the market, perhaps before autumn. This could save lives in Europe and in the rest of the world too."

On Monday, CureVac denied newspaper reports that US President Donald Trump had offered to pay for exclusive rights to a coronavirus vaccine, and the German government says it has “dealt with" the situation.

There is as yet no vaccine against the novel strain of coronavirus that emerged in China last year and has in recent weeks become a fast-moving pandemic across 145 countries and territories.

Europe is now what the WHO has dubbed the epicentre of the outbreak, and EU officials are scrambling to coordinate ever more draconian measures to isolate carriers from the population at large.