Trials advancing for Covid-19 drug and vaccine research

Trials advancing for Covid-19 drug and vaccine research

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne has recently given the Federal Government a proposal for preventative treatment options against Covid-19.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt (pictured) revealed the proposal in a press conference today, explaining it would be considered immediately.

"I am hopeful that within the next 48 hours that they will have provided a strong case, but I am very predisposed to accept that," Hunt said.

"We've opened up the $13 million round for proposals with regards to antivirals, so suppressing the effects and hastening the treatment.

"I have not previously heard until now of the potential for possible prevention, but it's very heartening that the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute has put this forward, and in addition to that, respiratory medicine which is about making sure that the process of, in many cases, effectively flooding the lungs is limited."

In a statement given to Business News Australia, a spokesperson for the institute said a proposal had been made for a clinical trial with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for high-risk health workers.

The institute plans to invite doctors, nurses and other health workers across hospital departments who are at risk of acquiring infection to participate.

"Health care workers are at the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their exposure to the virus increases their risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes COVID-19 disease," the spokesperson said.

"We are targeting this group with the goal of reducing the impact on the health care work force so they are able to care for sick patients.

"Beyond personal protective equipment, evidence is emerging that the drug hydroxychloroquine, used for more than 70 years to treat autoimmune conditions such as lupus, has clinically relevant antiviral activity that could prevent COVID-19."

Trial participants would be provided with the drug for four months to prevent Covid-19, with the trial set to include 2,250 people of whom half would be on the drug while the other half take a placebo.

"The clinical study is a collaborative effort with major hospitals across Victoria," the spokesperson said.

"We have identified and engaged principal investigators including infectious disease physicians and emergency department doctors at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, St Vincent's, Austin, Alfred, Monash, Royal Children's Hospital and Barwon Health.

"The proposal is still being considered and, if successful, is expected to begin in the near future, following receipt of the appropriate ethics approvals."

Hunt said the Federal Government had joined the Queensland Government to support clinical vaccine trials for Covid-19 at the University of Queensland. 

Yesterday it was announced the Queensland Government would allocate $10 million and the Australian Government had pledged $3 million to the project, which is led by UQ's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences. 

A further $4 million has come from philanthropic contributions. 

UQ is the only Australian organisation tasked by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, and the funding announced today is an important extension of CEPI's ongoing financial support.

CEPI is the same organisation that is supporting a Covid-19 vaccine trial in Seattle, Washington State in the US.

Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the funding would provide additional critical support to UQ and partners such as the Doherty Institute and CSIRO in the analysis of vaccine efficacy.

Høj highlighted a drive to commence clinical trials on the vaccine as early as July in Queensland.

"Importantly, the funding will also support advancing large-scale manufacture with industry partners both locally and overseas," Professor Høj said.

"We know the importance of having a vaccine to protect against influenza, and it is vital for us to be ready to prevent future escalations of COVID-19."

When asked about the US trialling of drugs as treatment for thecoronavirus, Hunt today said trials in Australia would be expanded and could potentially include both an HIV drug and the anti-malarial drug Hexachloroquin.

Updated at 1:31pm AEDT on 24 March 2020.

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