COVID-19 vaccine project at University of Queensland gets a A$17 million boost

25 Mar 2020

A program to fast-track a vaccine for COVID-19 led by Norwegian research alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), has received a A$17 million boost from Australian state and federal governments, and private research bodies.

Announced on March 22nd, the funding will help an existing team of CEPI-backed researchers at the University of Queensland to expedite development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Researchers at the university’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences are using a patented vaccine-development technique called a ‘molecular clamp. The technique involves creating a synthesised protein then clamping it onto viral cells. This enables the human immune system to detect viral pathogens more easily.

Researchers hope that by applying the molecular clamp technique to the COVID-19 coronavirus they can commence clinical trials for a vaccine as early as July.

The Queensland Government has allocated A$10 million to the vaccine project, with the Federal Government contributing a further A$3 million. The Paul Ramsay Institute will make a A$3.5 million contribution when program investment passes A$20 million.

Global partners in Australian vaccine research

The University of Queensland is the only Australian organisation tasked with developing a vaccine for COVID-19 by Oslo-based CEPI.

University Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj, says the funding will provide additional critical support to the university and its partners – the Doherty Institute and CSIRO – in their drive to commence clinical trials.

‘The funding will also support advancing large scale manufacture with industry partners, both locally and overseas,’ says Professor Høj.

The CEPI association began in January 2019. University of Queensland scientists had recently invented the molecular clamping technique, which was patented by the University of Queensland technology-transfer company, UniQuest

The Norwegian group signed a A$14.7 million partnering agreement with the University of Queensland, believing the clamping technique could lead to rapid vaccine development and production.

Hitting the vaccine accelerator

With the COVID-19 outbreak, CEPI stepped up its partnership. On January 23, CEPI began three programs to accelerate vaccine development in response to the COVID 19 outbreak – including one with the Queensland team.

In less than one month, the Australian team announced it had created a vaccine candidate in the laboratory.

According to University of Queensland virus specialist, Dr Keith Chappell, the ability to manufacture the vaccine and run early-phase clinical trials simultaneously means that doses would be ready to go the moment a vaccine is approved.

‘Accelerating our work to find a safe and effective vaccine brings us a step closer to translating a fundamental research discovery through to full scale manufacture for the global populace,’ he says.

The University of Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences is a leading centre for research in the chemical and molecular life sciences. It specialisations include vaccines, antimicrobial drug resistance, and potential treatments for viral infections.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is a global association that focusses on finding and developing vaccines against emerging diseases. It is based in Oslo, Norway, with offices in London and New York.