The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) engaged us in January 2020 to undertake critical new research on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, our high-containment biosecurity facility in Geelong.

Our Dangerous Pathogens Team, led by Team Leader and Principal Investigator Dr S S Vasan, worked with the first strain of SARS-CoV-2 isolated outside of China by the Peter Doherty Institute. Our researchers were the first to grow sufficient stocks to investigate the physical and molecular characteristics of the virus to find differences and similarities with other known coronaviruses.

Pre-clinical trials are underway at our high containment facility, the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP)

The team was also the first in the world to show that ferrets are susceptible to the virus , and have developed this animal model to initiate the world's first multi-vaccine efficacy studies.

Preclinical evaluation of potential COVID-19 vaccines

We commenced preclinical studies for two potential vaccines in late March 2020: Inovio Pharmaceuticals' DNA vaccine, and the University of Oxford's adenoviral vectored vaccine.

The vaccines were selected by CEPI , in consultation with the World Health Organisation, based on their readiness for testing. The team is evaluating the advantages of administering Oxford's vaccine intranasally versus an intramuscular injection.

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. Our work also addresses how long the virus takes to develop and replicate, how it impacts on the respiratory system and how it can be transmitted.

In addition to vaccine evaluation, this team is also working with bioinformaticians from our Australian e-Health Research Centre to ensure that mutations in the virus will not affect the animal model and the vaccine candidates.

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.

Read the latest updates on this work.

CSIRO achieves COVID-19 vaccine milestone

[Image appears of an aerial view looking down on the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong and text appears: Voice of Dr. Rob Grenfell, Director Health and Biosecurity, CSIRO, Source ABC Radio Sydney, Afternoons with James Valentine]

Dr Rob Grenfell: So what we’ve announced today is we’ve got two candidates that we’ve taken into what’s called pre-clinical studies

[Image changes to show a female taking down a positive pressure hazmat suit and putting it on starting at the feet and working up to the helmet area]

and that’s to actually work out one, do they work, and two, are they safe, before we move on to human trials. And we’ve now moved through some steps that normally take one to two years in about two months.

[Image changes to show Prof. Trevor Drew talking to the camera and text appears: Prof. Trevor Drew, Director, Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, CSIRO]

Prof. Trev Drew: Following the emergence of the SARS Coronavirus Type 2, the causative virus of COVID-19

[Images move through to show two people entering a room wearing the positive pressure hazmat suits, a female adjusting the air line that pressurizes the suit, and warning signs on the door]

we were able to very rapidly plug in our system into serving the, the needs of the international community in testing candidate vaccines.

[Image changes to show a side view of a male in the suit]

Male: OK.

[Image changes to show a rear view of a female and male looking at an image of the virus on the computer screen inside the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness facility]

Female: So, this is the virus growing in the cell monolayer. You can see all the cells around here.

[Camera zooms in on the computer screen]

Yep, there’s a lot of CPE there but they’re growing really well.

[Image changes to show a male employee putting a container inside a machine inside the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness facility]

Male: Great job there.

Female: Really good.

Male: Excellent.

[Image changes to show liquid being syringed up from test tubes and into another bank of test tubes and then the image changes to show a female at work in a lab and text appears: Voice of Dr. Rob Grenfell, Director, Health and Biosecurity, CSIRO, Source, ABC Radio Sydney, Afternoons with James Valentine]
Dr Rob Grenfell: CEPI, the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation which is set up by Gates Foundation, Welcome Trust and World Economic Forum,

[Image changes to show employees sitting and working at computers dressed in positive pressure hazmat suits and the camera zooms in on one of the employees]

it started about four years ago and we’ve been working with them on developing a platform to respond to Disease X.

[Image changes to show a person syringing liquid into a test tube and then images move through of a male working in a lab, and then syringing liquid into test tubes]

Well the Coronavirus turns up and so it’s the first one that fits into this model. So, we have been preparing for this.

[Images move through of a piece of equipment, part of a hazmat suit and gloves, an employee operating a microscope and a female working in a laboratory]

Prof. Trev Drew: I cannot recall an example of where the world science teams have actually worked together in such harmony to try to solve a problem such as perplexing.

[Camera zooms in on the female squeezing a syringe and then the image changes to show an aerial view looking down on the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong]

That in itself gives us a lot of hope in the sense of where we are.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo and text: CSIRO Australia’s National Science Agency]

CSIRO achieves COVID-19 vaccine milestone

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