Scientists were close to a vaccine four years ago that could have been effective against the coronavirus that is crossing the globe. But they couldn't get the funding to send it to clinical trials, according to reporting by NBC News.

The vaccine was developed by scientists in Texas in 2016, more than a decade after SARS -- another coronavirus -- killed more than 770 people in China. But it wasn't a top-of-mind issue for many people.

"We tried like heck to see if we could get investors or grants to move this into the clinic," Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease expert from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, told NBC. "But we just could not generate much interest."

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Hotez said it could have been ready to go to test on the COVID-19 virus that emerged out of China. But, it is reportedly sitting in a freezer and nowhere close to commercial production. Hotez says it's a sign of a broken system in vaccine development.

Hotez told a congressional panel Thursday that a safe and effective vaccine could be as many as two years away.

"It really depends on the safety signals that we're seeing with these vaccines," he said.

He also wanted to make it clear that when some biotech industries say a vaccine is weeks away, that doesn't mean it's ready to go to the public.

"What they're really saying is they can move a vaccine into clinical trials, but this will not go quickly because as we start vaccinating human volunteers, especially in areas where we have community transmission, we're going to have to proceed very slowly, very cautiously," Hotez said.