TORONTO -- A group of Canadian scientists has successfully isolated and grown copies of the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, paving the way for a potential vaccine.

Researchers say isolating the virus will help develop treatments, vaccines and tests for the virus and allow them to conduct long-term research to understand the biology of COVID-19.

"We need key tools to develop solutions to this pandemic,” Dr. Samira Mubareka, microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook, said in a statement.

“While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus."

The team, made up of scientists from Sunnybrook Hospital, McMaster University and the University of Toronto, used samples taken from two Canadian COVID-19 patients to replicate the virus in a level three containment facility at the University of Toronto in a matter of weeks.

Mubareka says having access to the virus will allow researchers to start working on potential solutions to the pandemic before the outbreak peaks in Canada.

Meanwhile, Quebec-based biotech Medicago says it has taken the first step towards a vaccine by producing a virus-like particle of the novel coronavirus, which will now undergo testing for safety and efficacy.

As of Friday morning, there were 159 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including the prime minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

The virus, declared a pandemic earlier this week by the World Health Organization, has infected 135,318 people worldwide and killed 4,981. However, 69,642 people have recovered from the virus.