Aussie COVID-19 vaccine at global ‘forefront’
The Netherlands laboratory testing the University of Queensland vaccine says the Australian inoculation was at the "forefront" of coronavirus science.
Viroclinics Xplore, based in Rotterdam, has been testing the UQ drug, with results expected to be made public within weeks.
The company has also been trialling other COVID-19 vaccines, but the UQ vaccine was "really serious".
The UQ was likely to become one of several potentially successful vaccines, with the University of Oxford also among world leading research.
Bob van Gemen, chief executive of Viroclinics Xplore, told News Corp Australia in an exclusive interview, that the University of Queensland was at the "forefront" of coronavirus science.
"If you just look at who is working on COVID-19 you know that there are hundreds of small companies that think they have the drug or a vaccine or something that can be helpful," he said.
"They all want it tested, there's a lot of testing going on of all of this stuff and there is a number of big pharma that has serious programs with new or existing drugs or vaccines.
"There's a lot going on COVID-19. Queensland is one of the many but at least they are very much at the forefront of something that could actually be extremely good."
Joint UQ project leader Dr Keith Chappell said the team had decided early on that ensuring a robust package of preclinical and safety data was critical before initiating a clinical trial, and they hoped to have those results in early June.
"Viroclinics Xplore is investigating in more detail the vaccine's ability to protect from direct challenge by the live virus in multiple animal models, and without this partnership this just wouldn't have been possible in this time frame with the capabilities we have here in Australia," Dr Chappell said.
The UQ vaccine was developed with the assistance of the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne.
Source - World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, other media
Results released last week showed the vaccine had been able to produce antibodies against coronavirus.
University of Melbourne Professor Kanta Subbarao, from the Doherty Institute, tested samples provided by the UQ team and found high levels of antibodies capable of neutralising infection by the live virus in cell culture.
"This is a very important finding because similar immune responses with SARS vaccines in animal models were shown to lead to protection from infection," Professor Subbarao said.
Mr van Gemen, has been at the helm of Viroclinics Biosciences, which controls its Xplore brand, since 2011.
"I think it's reassuring that there are so many working on (a vaccine). It makes our chance of finding a good vaccine and a good antiviral relatively good," he said.
"The Queensland work is really serious, good science behind it. Maybe not all of the initiatives have that science behind it, some are a little bit more optimistic."
The company has up to 40 of its 250 scientists testing the UQ vaccine candidate, with hundreds of tests being done each day.
It acquired a new company DDL Diagnostic Laboratory in March, which has expanded its testing ability.
The level-three Rotterdam laboratory has been working with the live virus in its trials, injecting it into animals, commonly hamsters, to see if it safe for further human trials.
The tests were "sophisticated" and therefore took more time than standard testing for COVID-19 patients.
Mr van Gemen was unable to comment specifically on the UQ results or research, but said that commonly two groups of less than 10 animals were used in trials.
Viroclinics also has a laboratory in China, but it is not being used for any part of the UQ work.
The company also said it had high teach anti-hacking software to protect lab and results data.
The global coronavirus pandemic had led to a shortage of some personal protective equipment for Viroclinics' scientists, but they managed to overcome the problem.
"Working with COVID-19 in high amounts, for all the essays that we do with the live virus we need really serious personal protection masks, not the cheap ones we need the good ones," he said.
"So far we have been extremely creative in finding masks for instance, we went to building sites to see if they had any masks they weren't using that we could use," Mr van Gemen said.
"Because it's such a global issue everybody is struggling, how do you deal with that, there's not enough."
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) asked UQ to fast track its vaccine using molecular clamp technology in January.
They expect to do human trials from "third quarter of 2020" if preclinical work was successful.
Health Minister Greg Hunt's office said: "The Australian Government has contributed to the University of Queensland's COVID-19 vaccine development project in partnership with the Queensland Government and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
"While the Government has made a significant contribution to the University of Queensland's vaccine development work, the University operates with autonomy for its management of the process, including how it selects, works with, and provides funding to its collaborating partners.
"The World Health Organization has reported that over 80 COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development across the world. It is possible that more than one vaccine may be found to be both safe and effective, which could benefit access to vaccines across the world."
UQ VACCINE KEY PLAYERS
Professor Trent Munro: UQ vaccine program director is the senior group leader at Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. He previously worked at Amgen in California where he was responsible for getting drugs to clinical trials and then launched on the market.
Dr Keith Chappell: A homegrown UQ scientist. He did a PhD at UQ in 2007 before jetting off to Spain's Instituto Salud Carlos III for three years. In Spain he worked on respiratory viruses and their antibodies. He returned to UQ in 2011 where he worked on the flu, ebola, Koala Retrovirus, Respiratory Syncytial virus (RSV), Dengue virus (Den), and West Nile Virus (WNV).
Professor Kanta Subbarao: Prof Subbarao has been the World Health Organisation's kingpin on influenza research at its Melbourne laboratory since 2016. She is also part of the Doherty Institute and did antibody testing on the UQ vaccine. Prior to arriving in Melbourne, Prof Subbarao was the boss of respiratory viruses at NIAID, National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States, for 14 years.
Professor Paul Young: Head of School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences at UQ and co-leader on the vaccine. He studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1986, before joining UQ in 1991. An expert on ebola and dengue fever.
Originally published as Aussie COVID-19 vaccine at global 'forefront'