The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency has commended the first stage of testing potential vaccines for Covid-19. The testing, expected to take three months, is underway at the organisation’s high- containment biosecurity facility, the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong.
To prepare for disease outbreaks, last year CSIRO partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global group that aims to derail epidemics by speeding up the development of vaccines. In January, CEPI engaged CSIRO to start working on the virus SARS CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.
In consultation with the WHO, CEPI has identified vaccine candidates from The University of Oxford (UK) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (US) to undergo the first pre-clinical trials at CSIRO, with further candidates likely to follow, the CSIRO told TOI.
The TOI was the first to report that a team at CSIRO — led by Prof SS Vasan an Overseas Citizen of Indian (OCI) — was the first to grow a batch of the virus outside China in sufficient stocks for pre-clinical studies.
Professor Vasan, team leader, CSIRO Dangerous Pathogens Team and the principal investigator of the CEPI projects, told TOI: “We have designed a staggered challenge study to get timely information on vaccine efficacy, initially with just the prime dose, followed closely by prime and boost. With the Oxford candidate, we are exploring if intranasal administration induces tissue resident immunity to help clear the infection more readily or rapidly.”
And, the latest milestone builds on CSIRO’s growing work to tackle the pandemic, which has included scaling up other potential vaccine candidates at its biologics production facility in Melbourne.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall, said: “Beginning vaccine candidate testing at CSIRO is a critical milestone in the fight against Covid-19, made possible by collaboration both within Australia and across the globe. CSIRO researchers are working around-the-clock to combat this disease which is affecting so many — whether it’s at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) or at our state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility— and we will keep working until this viral enemy is defeated.”
CSIRO is testing the vaccine candidates for efficacy, but also evaluating the best way to give the vaccine for better protection, including an intramuscular injection and innovative approaches like a nasal spray.
Professor Trevor Drew OBE, director of AAHL and leading the organisation’s vaccine work said: “We have been studying SARS CoV-2 since January and getting ready to test the first vaccine candidates as soon as they are available.”
He said that the team is carefully balancing operating at speed with the critical need for safety in response to this global public health emergency, adding that theirs is the only high biocontainment facility in the southern hemisphere working with highly dangerous and exotic pathogens.
Elaborating on the work that’s happened so far, Marshall said: “CSIRO was the first research organisation outside of China to generate sufficient stock of the virus —using the virus strain isolated by the Doherty Institute — to enable pre-clinical studies and research on Covid-19. In February, we successfully established a biological model, the first in the world to confirm ferrets react to SARS-CoV-2. Researchers have quickly progressed to studying the course of infection in the animals – a crucial step in understanding if a vaccine will work.”
He added that CSIRO researchers confirmed, after studying SARS CoV-2’s genomic sequence, that the virus is presently changing into a number of distinct ‘clusters’ and are now starting to look at how this may also impact on the development of a vaccine.