TIA: Supporting the development of a COVID-19 Vaccine

Topics:ACTA Members

Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA) is the lead agent for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) Translating Health Discoveries project funded by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment. TIA invests in research infrastructure facilities that enable the translation of discoveries from the lab to Phase I and II clinical trials. By acting as a facilitator between discovery platforms and industry, TIA provides resources to help researchers bridge the various ‘valleys of death’ in medical research.

Supporting research infrastructure in the era of COVID-19

Earlier this month, the University of Queensland (UQ) announced they were fast-tracking a potential COVID-19 vaccine that was already in pre-clinical phase. This vaccine gained international media attention as a promising solution to the pandemic. Dr Stuart Newman, CEO of TIA, describes the infrastructure investment that is enabling the rapid development of this vaccine.

“Our funding underpins the National Biologics Facility (NBF) at UQ in Brisbane, CSIRO in Melbourne, and UTS in Sydney. The NBF is a network of early-stage biopharmaceutical service providers with complementary skillsets around production of biologics, including vaccines. At the moment the UQ and CSIRO nodes are discovering and developing vaccine candidates, and developing processes for production of Phase I trial materials.”

Nearly a third of TIA’s investment is directly supporting infrastructure critical to development of this vaccine, which uses a novel molecular clamp technology patented by Australian scientists.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the TIA-supported NBF was already working with two UQ researchers who needed access to NBF’s research capabilities and equipment. “TIA provides the funding for the infrastructure, so we’re the backstage crew if you like – it means that researchers can come in and make use of the best expertise and the facilities in the country, without having to develop it themselves” said Dr Newman.

These two UQ researchers had partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) - a global initiative for epidemic preparedness - on showcasing the molecular clamp technology to deliver vaccines against known viruses as a proof of concept or mock rapid response to a hypothetical pandemic. The NBF team was therefore able to quickly respond to the actual COVID-19 threat, as soon as the genomics data of the virus was available, they were able to adapt and refocus their relevant SARS-based CEPI studies and development already in motion and commit 100% of their resources and expertise to the problem. As a result, the COVID-19 vaccine candidate is progressing well through promising tox and key animal studies and is on track for Australian Phase I clinical studies in July 2020.

“Within the NCRIS network there’s about 24 facilities, and many have capabilities relevant to medical research—we have been bringing these research infrastructures and service offerings together to make us think about how we can best respond and point the right scientific expertise to the problems.” Said Dr Newman.