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CSIRO starts testing two possible vaccines for Covid-19

Image: CSIRO [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Trials of UK and US vaccines will be carried out over next three months

Australia’s national science agency has started testing two potential vaccines for Covid-19 at its biosecurity research laboratories in regional Victoria.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will conduct tests over the next three months on two possible vaccines developed by a pharmaceutical company in the United States and a university research team in the UK.

It will also assess the best methods of administering a Covid-19 vaccine, including intramuscular injection and nasal sprays.

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said the federal science agency was the first research organisation outside China to generate sufficient stock of the virus to allow pre-clinical studies and research on Covid-19.

It has used a laboratory-grown virus strain isolated in January by researchers at the Peter Doherty institute for infection and immunity at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

The CSIRO vaccine trials will be led by Trevor Drew, director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, the agency’s high-security human and animal infectious diseases research centre in Geelong.

“We have been studying SARS CoV-2 since January and getting ready to test the first vaccine candidates as soon as they are available. We are carefully balancing operating at speed with the critical need for safety in response to this global public health emergency,” Drew said in a university statement.

In January, the CSIRO was commissioned by Cepi, the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—a research funding organisation based in Norway—to begin laboratory analysis of the virus SARS CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.

Researchers looked at the SARS CoV-2 genomic sequence and confirmed that the virus was changing into a number of distinct clusters. They are investigating how this could affect the development of a vaccine for the global pandemic.

The Geelong laboratories will test vaccines developed by the University of Oxford in the UK and Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania, which has received a $15 million grant from Cepi to advance clinical trials for its INO-4800 vaccine. Other potential vaccines will be tested by the CSIRO as they become available

Cepi was founded in 2017 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was initially funded by US philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, British research funding organisation the Wellcome Trust and the governments of Japan, Germany, India and Norway.