Around the world, scientists are hunting for a vaccine against deadly coronavirus Covid-19. China says it could have one by November. Russia has approved one amid widespread concerns it was premature. Also on the job are researchers in Britain, the United States, Germany, Japan... and now, Rotorua.
So how did a research institute usually focused on forestry join the fight to end a pandemic?
Rotorua-based Crown research institute Scion has joined forces with a Kiwi start-up, the Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation, to help develop a homegrown Covid-19 vaccine.
It's a task that roughly half a dozen Rotorua scientists are beyond excited about, Scion science leader biotransformation Dr Gareth Lloyd-Jones said.
On a normal day, you could find the team applying biotechnology to forest products - essentially converting wood into other materials such as alternatives to plastics.
"We're trying to use all the parts of the tree and trying to do it in a way that replaces the sort of material we currently get out of oil," Lloyd-Jones said.
But the Covid-19 Vaccine Corporation (CVC) saw another use for Scion's skills and set up: growing biobeads to develop a vaccine to a disease that has infected more than 29 million people worldwide.
CVC's intended vaccine differs from other vaccine candidates for the unique biobead technology that it licensed from New Zealand company Polybatics.
Its method includes making biobeads coated with carefully chosen components of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
These biobeads are grown at scale and purified at Scion's specialised facility, where they will be produced as a test vaccine suitable for various testing purposes, which is speeding up the overall process for CVC.
"As part of our normal work, we've been doing work on converting wood into bioplastic products and to do that we use a fermenter which is a large stainless steel vessel that we can put in control inputs," Lloyd-Jones said.
That piece of equipment has been used to convert material from a tree including extracting sugar from cellulose.
Lloyd-Jones said his team have used that sugar to feed microbes to make plastics. But the same material can be used to grow biobeads for CVC.
"The only difference is they will have altered the surface of the bioplastic with a microbe which the bacteria makes to convert it into a substance to behave like a vaccine.
"It's the same material but with a different purpose."
The biobeads and coating are simultaneously manufactured inside bacteria, which is an efficient method of production for a vaccine that CVC expects to be safe and offer broad immune coverage in humans.
The task poses no threat to the health of scientists despite working closely with a part of the virus, Lloyd-Jones said.
"We're growing inside a bacteria a very small part of the protein that exists in the virus. That's a very, very small part of the virus, we're not growing any viruses whatsoever. We're not handling any viruses whatsoever.
"We're just making a copy of a very small part of the protein that's on the surface of the virus and hoping that protein is specific enough to make cells in the body produce antibodies that will allow antibodies to also recognise not only the vaccine but also the virus."
Lloyd-Jones estimated his team would be working on this project for at least six months before "rigorous" testing can take place.
CVC chief executive Dr Robert Feldman said he expected the first human trial to be in the first three to four months of 2022.
"When we started this we didn't anticipate ours to be the first one that would be available, but we think ours would be better if it works.
"Because it will be efficient to produce, but also, it is our expectation the combination of these biobeads plus our particular choice of little bits of the virus will lead to a vaccine that will see a particularly good immune response."
Feldman, a serial biotech entrepreneur and medical doctor with vaccine experience, believes the vaccine will have a longer life span, in turn creating a "cost-efficient and reliable".
Feldman said when developing the vaccine, CVC decided on a "unique combination" of the Covid-19 virus that was different to other vaccines in development.
The corporation has secured $488,000 interim funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Covid-19 innovation acceleration fund and also closed on $1 million in private company funding.
But Feldman said there was a lot more funding needed to implement the trials and the progress of the vaccine would be dependent on how quickly the "very large sums" of money came in.
CVC chief scientific officer Dr Andy Herbert said Scion's biotechnology pilot plant was critical to CVC's vaccine development.
"Working with Scion will allow CVC to accelerate development and put us on a fast-track towards manufacturing and testing our Covid-19 vaccine.
"We really appreciate how Dr Lloyd-Jones' team and Scion have moved to expedite our work - it's another example of Kiwis pulling together and doing what they can to fight this dangerous disease."
According to data collated by the New York Times, there are 40 coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 92 at an earlier stage.