Researchers receive $17 million investment in pathogen genomics

Peter Doherty Institute
The University of Melbourne welcomes almost $17 million investment in research towards the prevention and control of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. Image: The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

The prevention and control of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Australia has been significantly bolstered thanks to almost $17 million in funding awarded to Melbourne researchers by the Commonwealth Government.

The funding was awarded for two of the four projects granted under the Medical Research Future Fund’s Pathogen Genomics Flagship:

  • Precision Public Health in Australia through Integrated Pathogen Genomics (P2HAGE) (approximately $10 million) – will implement and evaluate a nationally synchronised approach to public health pathogen genomics with a real-time genomic analysis and reporting platform to facilitate rapid and coordinated responses to infectious disease. This program will be led by University of Melbourne Professor Ben Howden, Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute.
  • META-GP: Delivering a Clinical Metagenomics Platform for Australia (approximately $7 million) – Clinical metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) is a transformative approach in microbial diagnostics and patient care, because it can be used to detect and characterise all known pathogens – bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic – in one single test. The META-GP program will develop and implement clinical metagenomic diagnostics for infectious diseases in Australia. This program will be led by University of Melbourne Professor Deborah Williamson, Director of Microbiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Deputy Director of Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute.

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, said that as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious diseases represent one of the greatest threats to human health and socioeconomic prosperity.

“Pathogen genomics – the deployment of rapid, precise and accurate identification and characterisation of infectious diseases pathogens such as viruses and bacteria – has revolutionised the diagnosis, surveillance and control of infectious diseases globally,” Professor Lewin said.

“I’d like to thank the Commonwealth Government for the significant investment into these highly translational programs, which will enhance public health action and patient care nationally, and reduce infectious disease incidence and spread, including AMR.”

Professor Howden said the P2HAGE program would integrate genomics practises and information sharing across all states and territories across four areas of national need – respiratory and vaccine preventable diseases, foodborne diseases, sexually-transmitted infections, and AMR.

“Through P2HAGE, health departments across Australia and Commonwealth communicable diseases control agencies will have access to cost-effective genomic technologies across a unified platform that will enable them to rapidly identify, communicate and prevent the spread of infectious diseases and AMR,” Professor Howden said.

“The program will ensure harmonised and equitable public health responses across jurisdictions including regions traditionally lacking access to emerging technologies.”

Professor Williamson said that metagenomic next-generation sequencing is an emerging technology that enables detection of pathogen genetic material directly from clinical specimens in real-time.

“By the end of the META-GP program, Australia will have the first accredited, nationally-accessible network of laboratories that can apply metagenomic approaches in patient care.”

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity is a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

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