Australian scientists hope to produce up to 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of next year as Queensland researchers sign a major partnership with pharmaceutical giant CSL.
A deal between the University of Queensland (UQ), CSL and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) comes after promising early results in the laboratory and aims to fast-track the development of a home-grown vaccine.
Under the deal, CSL and CEPI will fund human trials of the UQ-developed vaccine candidate.
The trials will start next month.
UQ researcher Paul Young said 120 people would be recruited for the first trial, to test the vaccine’s safety and monitor the impact on the immune system.
All going well, a further 800 to 1,000 people would take part in the next stage of the vaccine trial.
Professor Young said he was hopeful his team would have results by the middle of 2021.
The first trial is likely to take place in Brisbane, but subsequent trials will need to be carried out where the virus is more prevalent to test the vaccine’s effectiveness.
‘Molecular clamp’ shows promise
The vaccine is distinct from other candidates under development because it uses what is known as a “molecular clamp” — a technology patented by the university.
It involves the use of a “backbone” in the vaccine, which can be rapidly adapted for use against different pathogens by inserting new genetic or protein sequences.
It is designed to stimulate an immune response and protect against people developing COVID-19.
In the human trials, a boosting agent will be added with the aim of increasing the vaccine’s effectiveness.
If trials are successful, initial large-scale production of the vaccine would happen at CSL’s biotech manufacturing headquarters in Melbourne.
“While there are a number of critical milestones to be met before the vaccine can be considered successful, CSL anticipates that the production technology can be scaled to produce up to 100 million doses towards the end of 2021,” a joint statement said.
“CSL would also subcontract other global manufacturers to increase the number of doses that can be produced and broaden the geographical distribution of vaccine production.”
CSL’s chief scientific officer, Andrew Cuthbertson, said making a vaccine for coronaviruses was “really hard”.
“It’s high risk, but we have enough confidence in the science and technological approach to give it a red hot go,” he said.
The alliance has a successful track record. CSL partnered with UQ to make the cervical cancer vaccine.
That research took 15 years, but the COVID-19 vaccine work is being fast-tracked.
CSL is Australia’s most valuable company and the Australian Government’s biosecurity partner and manufacturer of the seasonal flu vaccine.
It also produced 21 million doses of the swine flu H1N1 vaccine for the Australian population in 2009 after becoming the first in the world to start mass production.
‘Ringing endorsement’ for UQ
CEPI chair Jane Halton said UQ’s effort to find a vaccine had “received a ringing endorsement from our scientific committee”.
CEPI has partnered with a number of scientific institutions that are working on developing a vaccine for COVID-19, four of which have entered clinical trials.
Ms Halton said her organisation was focused on developing vaccines that were globally accessible, and on vaccinating people who needed it most, wherever they were.
CEPI is already working with a number of other organisations to produce a vaccine for coronavirus, including Clover Biopharmaceuticals Australia, Curevac, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Novavax, the University of Hong Kong and the University of Oxford.
British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is part of the partnership with the University of Oxford, which has developed one of the first COVID-19 vaccines to go into human trials.
They are working to test the vaccine on 10,000 people in the UK, and are hoping to produce 300 million doses, if it is shown to be safe and effective.
Many ways to make a vaccine
Different laboratories are taking different approaches to producing a vaccine, with some developing drugs that use synthetic substances to train the immune system to recognise parts of the coronavirus, so it will produce the antigens needed to fight it off.
Others are investigating whether it is possible to use a weakened or inactive version of the virus to teach the immune system what to look out for.
All the vaccines are many months, if not years, from being shown to work in humans.
United Nations secretary-general António Guterres told a recent vaccine summit in the UK that a coronavirus vaccine must be seen as “a global public good” and “a people’s vaccine”.
“We need global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access,” he said.
World leaders have pledged $US8.8 billion ($12.6 billion) to Gavi, the public-private global health partnership that works to increase access to vaccines in developing countries.
The funding will be used for immunising 300 million children and to maintain the infrastructure necessary to roll out a future COVID-19 vaccine.
Source: ABC News