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Melburnians roll up their sleeves for coronavirus vaccine

“[Instead] we take blood tests from them and we test that in about half a dozen different ways, to show that this vaccine has hopefully provided the immune response that we need to protect people from COVID-19.”

American biotechnology company Novavax is behind the vaccine, which has been under development since January, and recently received a $US388-million ($590 million) boost from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to support human trials.

Australian microbiologist Dr Paul Griffin is helping to trial a vaccine he believes could guard against coronavirus.

Australian microbiologist Dr Paul Griffin is helping to trial a vaccine he believes could guard against coronavirus.Credit:Justin McManus

The foundation’s Dr Rodney Pearce said new technology used to create the vaccine was exciting because, instead of using a live virus, proteins were created in the laboratory, in an attempt to trick the body into thinking it was dealing with coronavirus, triggering an immune response.

“So the beauty of that is that you don’t have to have this risk of saying, ‘Am I going to catch the virus from the vaccine?’” said Dr Pearce, who also cautioned that the vast majority of vaccines developed did not end up being effective.


Novavax are yet to bring any vaccines to market but have advanced trials underway for vaccines for Ebola, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children.

The Doherty Institute’s Professor Damian Purcell said one potential benefit of the nanoparticle technology used by Novavax was that it could be scaled up to make a large number of doses in a short time.

Dr Griffin said the company was so confident in the vaccine it already had plans for phase-two trials, which would likely involve more than 2000 people in Australian and the United States, while planning was also underway for a phase-three trial.

This testing would likely involve tens of thousands of people and would need to expand into countries where coronavirus was much more prevalent to measure its protective impact.

“Given the gravity of the situation, [Novavax] will hopefully have 100 million doses able to be produced by the end of the year, and then the target will be 1.5 billion-doses next year,” Dr Griffin said.

Nucleus Network will run human trials from its clinics in Melbourne and Brisbane. Strict requirements for healthy candidates aged between 18 and 59 meant researchers were still looking for people to participate.

It’s understood those involved receive small payments to cover the cost of their time.

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