CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has commenced key research in the rapid global response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global group that aims to derail epidemics by speeding up the development of vaccines, has engaged CSIRO to help determine the characteristics of the current virus – a key step in developing a new vaccine.
The work will be undertaken at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), CSIRO’s high-containment facility in Geelong, the only Physical Containment Level 4 (PC4) lab in Australia, and one of only five in the world.
“CSIRO has been on the front line of biosecurity for 100 years. From hosting Australia’s most secure biosecurity lab, to developing the world’s first effective flu treatment and a vaccine for the Hendra virus, to more recent research on pathogens like SARS, CSIRO has a long history in keeping Australians safe from the threat of disease,” CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said.
“CSIRO is uniquely placed to combine our deep expertise in animal and human health, with capability in genetics, data and machine learning, to help fight this virus – but collaboration is key.
“As the national science agency, we can help bring together every branch of science and experts from across the system to tackle this major global health challenge.”
The research aims to paint a clearer picture of the new coronavirus, including how long it takes to develop and replicate, how it impacts on the respiratory system and how it can be transmitted.
“Infectious diseases like the new coronavirus are complex and pose a major challenge to human health,” Dr Rob Grenfell Director of Health and Biosecurity at CSIRO said.
“Through this project we will use our globally unique scientific capability to answer key questions about how the coronavirus behaves.”
Once information around where the virus originated and how it spreads becomes clearer, the CSIRO team at AAHL can begin testing of new potential vaccines being developed by a CEPI-led consortium that includes the University of Queensland and CSIRO.
The consortium was established to create a rapid response pipeline for developing and testing new vaccines, aiming to reduce development time from years to weeks.
Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s CEO, said, “The rapid global spread and unique epidemiological characteristics of the novel coronavirus is deeply concerning. Partnering with CSIRO, CEPI aims to improve our understanding of this virus and its epidemiological characteristics, which are key components in expediting development of the vaccines the world needs.”
The announcement further underlines the leading role Australia is playing in tackling the outbreak, building on the Peter Doherty Institute’s breakthrough in becoming the first group outside of China to successfully grow the novel coronavirus.
CEPI is an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations, launched at Davos in 2017, to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics. CEPI has reached over US$750 million of its $1 billion funding target. CEPI’s priority diseases include Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, Nipah virus, Rift Valley Fever and Chikungunya virus. CEPI also invests in platform technologies that can be used for rapid vaccine and immunoprophylactic development against unknown pathogens (ie, Disease X). To date, CEPI has committed to investing over $456 million in vaccine and platform development.