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1 May 2020 News Release

There's a lot that science can help us predict. Drought combined with climate change will lead to more bushfires; finite resources will lead to seeking renewable solutions; and increased global traffic will lead to faster disease transmission.

We saw it in the past summer's bushfire season, we see it in the global energy market, and we can see it in today's COVID-19 pandemic. These are all unprecedented but not unforeseen.

Around the world, countries and communities are being reshaped by COVID-19, but in our research institutions scientists are continuing what they've always done: applying their scientific expertise to solving challenges.

A century ago, science journals were recording the rise and fall of the Spanish influenza. This century we've seen rapid development of vaccines for avian flu and swine flu, and ongoing research into vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

As the world has become more interconnected, scientists have known the next disease outbreak would move faster. While we may not know where, when or how a pandemic may strike, the likelihood of it eventuating is something the scientific community has been preparing for. It's this preparation that has allowed us to hit the ground running with our COVID-19 response, both globally and locally.

Since 1985, the CSIRO has been protecting Australia through research and development into highly dangerous diseases at our Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong.

In 2015, when we were creating our new strategy, the CSIRO brought together experts from a range of backgrounds to build a "one health" model that could respond to a new disease threat in multiple ways, from vaccine development and medical supply production to data modelling and environmental science.

We brought big data and artificial intelligence to genetics research with the creation of our digital network, Data61; we created our biologics manufacturing facility to give us the local ability to scale up vaccines for testing; and we strengthened our global ties last year by partnering with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Domestically, we built strong partnerships with the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne, with the University of Queensland, and with tropical disease experts at James Cook University.

With so many teams around the world and in Australia working on a vaccine, you may ask: why not leave it to other countries with bigger populations and bigger research budgets?

This pandemic has shown us the frailty of relying on international supply chains. When health systems around the world are making heartbreaking decisions about who to save, we need to be building our own armoury for the war. And Australia has won many of the early battles because we were prepared.

We were the first country outside China to generate sufficient stock of the virus to enable preclinical studies and research. At the CSIRO, we successfully established a biological model analogous to humans in February, we were the first to confirm ferrets react to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and we are now using that knowledge to test vaccines.

In 1916, Australia was cut off from the rest of the world by geography and war, but it didn't stop the Spanish influenza arriving. So the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was established to reduce our dependence on imported vaccines, and the precursor to the CSIRO was formed to apply science to the many other challenges faced by a fledgling nation.

Today, our geography is not the protection it once was. We must collaborate locally and internationally to share knowledge and expertise while securing our own arsenal against new and emerging threats.

Collaboration has never been more important — the competition is us against the virus, and we'll win only as Team Australia, for Team Humanity.

This article originally appeared in The Australian: CSIRO armed nation for infectious invader


Dr Larry Marshall, Chief Executive, CSIRO.

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