Greg Hunt announces $66 million for coronavirus-related research

Health minister Greg Hunt has announced $66 million in funding for research into vaccine and treatments for COVID-19 and preparations for future pandemics.

The funding has been made available through the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and builds on the $30 million already committed to the Coronavirus Research Response (response).

The response is part of the federal government’s $8 billion Coronavirus (COVID-19) National Health Plan.

The response is targeting four research areas – a vaccine, antiviral therapies, clinical trials and improving the health system response and preparedness for future pandemics.

A vaccine for COVID-19

The University of Queensland will receive a further $2 million, building on a previously announced $3 million, for its molecular clamp’ technology that can accelerate the development of new vaccines.

The university is collaborating with a number of biopharmaceutical companies and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The federal government will also provide a further $13.6 million to support other COVID-19 vaccine development projects in 2020‑21.

An independent panel of experts will assess expressions of interest and invite formal applications from the most promising projects.

Antiviral therapies for COVID-19

The response includes $7.3 million for nine research teams to support the development of antiviral therapies for COVID-19.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute will receive $1 million for the VirDUB research project. The project aims to develop medicines that stop COVID-19 from hijacking human cells and disabling their anti-viral defences.

Minister Hunt said the most successful projects awarded under this round will have an opportunity to seek additional funding of up to $10 million to accelerate their research.

Another $2 million is being provided to a project using stem cell-derived tissues to rapidly test drugs already approved for use in humans for activity against COVID-19.

In the early stages of the program, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer will commence this work. Other laboratories will be able to join in the coming months.

Clinical trials of potential treatments

The response will provide $6.8 million to support seven clinical trials investigating treatments for the severe respiratory symptoms of COVID-19.

Improving the health system’s response to COVID-19 and future pandemics

The University of New South Wales will receive $3.3 million for genomics research into the behaviour, spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Other grant opportunities include $4 million for digital health research infrastructure, $2 million for research into the human immune response to COVID-19 infection, and $600,000 for research to understand the community’s information needs and behavioural drivers during outbreaks.