Aussie researchers wipe out COVID-19 in lab test

 

Australian researchers have used two widely available antiviral drugs to wipe out coronavirus in a lab test, as scientists successfully map the immune system's response to mild cases of the disease.

The two major breakthroughs have been heralded as "very important" steps toward developing treatments and a potential vaccine for COVID-19 by Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: AAP
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: AAP

The number of coronavirus cases in Australia on Tuesday jumped to 414, including NSW Senator Andrew Bragg who is now the third Morrison government member to test positive.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton shared a picture of himself and dog Ralph after being discharged from hospital to self isolate for the remainder of his illness on Tuesday.

It comes as US President Donald Trump announced 45 young healthy people would receive the first dose of a candidate vaccine created by biotechnology company Moderna.

Patients will be paid $1100 each to take the potential vaccine, which was fast tracked past animal testing straight to humans.

In Australia, University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director David Paterson said his team had found two drugs used to treat other conditions could wipe out coronavirus in test tubes.

Peter Dutton with dog Ralph at home after testing positive with COVID-19.
Peter Dutton with dog Ralph at home after testing positive with COVID-19.

The antimalarial medicine chloroquine and the HIV antiviral Kaletra - which is a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir - are already registered in Australia, and have also been used by doctors in China, Thailand and Japan to treat coronavirus patients.

"It's a potentially effective treatment," Prof Paterson said.

"Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of therapy."

Chinese experts first found chloroquine phosphate had a "certain curative effect" on coronavirus in mid-February.

Prof Paterson said UQ researchers now wanted to do a large clinical trial across Australia looking at treating patients in 50 hospitals.

Immunologist Professor Katherine Kedzierska holds a frozen blood sample used to find the breakthrough. Picture: David Caird
Immunologist Professor Katherine Kedzierska holds a frozen blood sample used to find the breakthrough. Picture: David Caird

The unprecedented sprint toward a vaccine is in part due to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, which causes the current virus.

COVID-19 shares at least 80 per cent of the same genetic material as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), for which scientists have never been able to find a cure.

Meanwhile Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Victoria have mapped how the immune system fights off and recovers from a mild to moderate case of coronavirus.

The team were able to test blood samples at four different time points in an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s, who presented with COVID-19 with symptoms requiring hospital admission.

Laboratory head Professor Katherine Kedzierska said understanding how the immune system overcomes the virus could be the secret to finding a vaccine.

"People can use our methods to understand the immune responses in larger COVID-19 cohorts, and also understand what's lacking in those who have fatal outcomes," she said.

Professor Katherine Kedzierska at the Doherty Institute where a breakthrough has been made that may help overcome coronavirus. Picture: David Caird
Professor Katherine Kedzierska at the Doherty Institute where a breakthrough has been made that may help overcome coronavirus. Picture: David Caird

Mr Hunt said Australian researchers at the Doherty Institute and UQ were "helping to lead the world" in a search for a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Professor Kedzierska has led the mapping of the immune response, probably the world's most advanced mapping of the immune response to coronavirus in mild to moderate patients," he said.

Mr Hunt said the "potential progress" by UQ researchers could significantly help with patients' respiratory conditions.

"(These are) very important developments where Australia is helping to lead the world."

Meanwhile participants in the trial for a US vaccine, which produces small pieces of virus to theoretically trigger an immune response without causing illness, started on Tuesday (TUE).

American mother-of-two Jennifer Haller, 43, who was the first person to receive the jab, said "this is an amazing opportunity for me to do something".

Safety data on the vaccine is expected within a few weeks and if it causes no serious adverse reactions it will move to the next phase of testing.

However the company warned it could be up to 12 months before clinical trials are completed and the vaccine becomes available if it works.

University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director David Paterson.
University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director David Paterson.

Coal royalties to fall by 53 per cent this financial year

Premium Content Coal royalties to fall by 53 per cent this financial year

Queensland Budget: How COVID-19 has depleted state coffers.

The biggest winners in the $43.2m education budget

Premium Content The biggest winners in the $43.2m education budget

FULL LIST: Budget outlines the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday schools to expand over...

Mining, agriculture buffered ‘worst of COVID-19 downturn’

Premium Content Mining, agriculture buffered ‘worst of COVID-19 downturn’

Treasurer Cameron Dick has revealed the key projects for Mackay Whitsunday in the...