Our research is forming an integral part of the rapid global response to the recent novel coronavirus outbreak. As part of an international coalition, our research will enhance Australia’s preparedness and help fast-track the development of a new vaccine.

The challenge

A new coronavirus epidemic

In late 2019, a new strain of coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, central China.

People in a lab

CSIRO scientists have begun preparing for the novel coronavirus’ arrival at AAHL.

Thousands of people have been infected, with cases also confirmed in a growing number of countries including Australia.

Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a diverse family of viruses originating in mammals and birds, and there are four human coronaviruses that cause mild symptoms characteristic to the common cold and gastroenteritis. But since 2002, three new human coronaviruses that cause severe lung disease including pneumonia have emerged:

  • 2002-03: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (caused by SARS-CoV)
  • 2012-present: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)
  • 2019-?: the SARS-like 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus).

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. China’s National Health Commission has confirmed the current strain has been spread from person-to-person, adding to the public health challenge.

Because this new coronavirus has only recently emerged, there is currently no vaccine, though several are in development.

Our response

Rapid global response

We have been engaged by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to undertake critical new research as part of the rapid global response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Professor S.S. Vasan

Professor S.S. Vasan is CSIRO Dangerous Pathogens Team Leader and Principal Investigator of the project.

Undertaken at our secure Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) high-containment facility, our research will help to determine the characteristics of the current virus – a key step in developing a new vaccine.

The research aims to paint a clearer picture of the new coronavirus, including how long it takes to develop and replicate, how it impacts on the respiratory system and how it can be transmitted.

We will then be able to test new potential vaccines being developed by a CEPI-led consortium, which includes CSIRO and the University of Queensland.

This consortium aims to accelerate the development and testing of new vaccines, reducing development time from years to months.

The results

Fast-tracking vaccine development

Our research and collaborations, as part of a global vaccine development pipeline, will enhance Australia's preparedness and aid the timely development of a new vaccine.

The work builds on our deep expertise in animal and human health, having been at the front line of biosecurity for 100 years: we developed the world's first effective flu treatment; a horse vaccine for the Hendra virus; and identified bats as the original hosts of SARS, another type of coronavirus that spread to humans in 2002-3.

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