Date published: 
2 June 2020
Media type: 
Media release
Audience: 
General public

The Morrison Government is investing $66 million into finding a vaccine and treatments for COVID-19, as well as better preparing for future pandemics.

This research will enable Australia’s world-class researchers to contribute to global efforts to control and eliminate the virus.

The funding is available through the Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), extending the $30 million already pledged for the Coronavirus Research Response.

There is currently no vaccine or proven and effective treatments for COVID-19.

Our Government is absolutely committed to protecting the community and this will help ensure Australians are protected from COVID-19 at the earliest possible time.

There are four target areas of research:

  1. Investing in a vaccine for COVID-19
  2. Investing in antiviral therapies for COVID-19
  3. Clinical trials of potential treatments for COVID-19
  4.  Improving the health system’s response to COVID-19 and future pandemics

The projects outlined here build on $14.4 million of previously announced COVID-19 research investment, including into improving the way we diagnose the virus and how we care for patients with COVID-19.

Investing in a vaccine for COVID-19

Australia is at the forefront of global efforts to develop a vaccine for protection against COVID-19.

The University of Queensland (UQ) will receive a further $2 million for their innovative “molecular clamp” technology, which allows new vaccines to be developed within months, rather than years, in response to emerging diseases. This brings the total Australian Government investment in this to $5 million.

UQ was the top-ranked applicant to the Government’s open competitive grant opportunity supporting research to develop a vaccine against COVID‑19. It is one of a small number of organisations around the world is collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

To extend our efforts to find a vaccine as soon as possible, our Government is announcing a further $13.6 million to support promising COVID-19 vaccine development projects in 2020‑21.

Through an open competitive grant opportunity, an independent panel of experts will assess expressions of interest and invite formal applications from the most promising projects.

The grant opportunity will be open between 15 June 2020 and 15 March 2021, with expressions of interest assessed from 15 July 2020, 15 November 2020 and 15 March 2021.

Investing in antiviral therapies for COVID-19

The Government is providing $7.3 million to nine research teams to support the development of promising antiviral therapies for COVID-19.

There are currently no known antiviral therapies for COVID-19. Having effective antiviral therapies will be a game changer for COVID-19, providing us with confidence that the disease can be managed.

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

By targeting a viral system that is found in a range of coronaviruses, VirDUB may lead to new medicines that could be instantly available to tackle potential future coronavirus disease outbreaks.

The most successful of the projects awarded under this round will have an opportunity to seek additional funding of up to $10 million to accelerate their therapy to clinical practice, including for human trials.

In addition, $2 million is being provided to an innovative 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, two world-leading laboratories, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer, will commence this important work. Other laboratories will be able to join in coming months.

Clinical trials of potential treatments for COVID-19 

The Government is providing $6.8 million to support seven clinical trials investigating treatments for the severe respiratory symptoms of COVID-19.

The clinical trials supported by this funding will investigate treatments for critically ill patients, health care workers and vulnerable cancer patients.

Patients can experience chest pain, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. These symptoms can be life-threatening for vulnerable people such as the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and people with chronic illnesses.

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

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

The use of genomics will be critical to our response, as these tools give very robust insights into exposure and clusters, especially in low prevalence settings.

Genomics essentially bar codes every virus so we know who is infected with the same virus – as people in a cluster will have an identical bar code.

This is critical to supporting public health responses to outbreaks as restrictions on gatherings are lifted.

The Government is continuing to invest in research to support a national health system response to COVID-19, including:

  • $4 million for digital health research infrastructure to help health systems respond faster to high-need emerging challenges. This competitive grant opportunity will open on 2 June 2020.
  • $2 million for research into the human immune response to COVID-19 infection, particularly in at risk people. This competitive grant opportunity will open on 12 June 2020.
  • $600,000 for research to understand the community’s information needs and behavioural drivers during outbreaks, and strategies to address these. This competitive grant opportunity will open on 2 June 2020.

Australians across the nation are to be congratulated in their response to the significant restrictions and changes in our lives that have enabled us to contain the virus in Australia.

Our Government is fully committed to keeping Australians as safe and well as possible during this pandemic, and to supporting our doctors, nurses and other health workers.

In April, the Morrison Government announced a $220 million upgrade of CSIRO’s high containment biosecurity research facility in Geelong, also known as the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP). This investment strengthens the ACDP’s emergency response capacity to prepare for, and deal with epidemics occurring in Australia and enhance the facility’s already outstanding work in developing disease protection and biosecurity measures.

The MRFF’s Coronavirus Research Response is part of the Morrison Government’s $8 billion Coronavirus (COVID-19) National Health Plan, which is supporting primary care, aged care, hospitals, research and the national medical stockpile.

MRFF Antiviral Development for COVID-19 Grant Opportunity research recipients

Institution

Project

Funding

Burnet Institute

Novel inhibitors of SARS coronaviruses targeting ACE2

$296,956.50

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Monoclonal antibody therapy of COVID-19

$594,420.08

Griffith University

Targeting SARS-CoV-2 using stealth nanoparticles loaded with gene silencing siRNAs

$317,694.00

Monash University

Convalescent plasma for COVID-19

$371,606.00

Monash University

Inhaled oligonucleotides to generate a decoy receptor for the SARS Coronavirus-2

$297,057.90

Monash University

Ivermectin as an anti-viral against SARS-CoV-2

$344,458.70

University of New South Wales

Hyperimmune globulin: a rapid pathway to treatment of COVID-19

$2,065,257.15

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Biologics for the prophylaxis and treatment of COVID-19

$1,990,853.20

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Targeting the deubiquitinase activity of Coronaviruses: the VirDUB programme

$1,055,207.80

MRFF Respiratory Medicine Clinical Trials Research on COVID-19 Grant Opportunity research recipients

Institution

Project

Funding

The Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research

Tocilizumab for Treatment of COVID-19 in intensive care patients (“TROCAR”)

$279,107.00

Queensland University of Technology

Use of therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM) to optimise oral/enteral hydroxychloroquine dosing in critically ill patients with COVID-19

$170,020.00

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

Precision antibiotic strategies to reduce invasive mechanical ventilation and mortality in COVID-19

$535,291.00

University of Melbourne

ProTreat: an adaptive and rapid implementation trial of novel therapies to prevent and treat COVID-19 infection in high risk cancer patients

$2,169,932.00

University of New South Wales

Repurposing existing medications to reduce severe acute respiratory distress in patients with COVID-19: the CLARITY trial

$1,406,587.00

The University of Queensland

Reducing acute severe respiratory events in health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic with OM85

$1,250,284.00

University of Sydney

IMPACT-ICO: Trials of immuno-modulatory particles and colchicine to improve COVID-19 outcomes

$980,415.00

Ministers: