“It’s essential that everyone realises the government should be backing multiple local vaccines in the hope that one or more of them will work out.”
“It is simply not sensible or ethical for them to just ‘pick their best friend and sign up a single massive deal with them’,” he said.
Meanwhile, fund manager Platinum Asset Management’s healthcare portfolio lead, Dr Bianca Ogden, thinks there would likely be many iterations of a vaccine.
“I think this virus will be with us forever — we will get other generations of vaccination,” she said.
The Morrison government says it’s doing everything it can to secure early access to a successful vaccine, no matter where it originates.
“Australian researchers have shown that they are world leaders as the race continues for the development of a vaccine. To support them, the government has allocated $66 million from the Medical Research Future Fund for COVID-19 research, including $19 million for COVID-19 vaccine development,” a spokesman for health minister Greg Hunt said.
“In addition, the government is communicating regularly with researchers, developers and manufacturers of vaccine candidates in other nations.”
However, the work being carried out at the University of Queensland is being keenly watched, with CSL’s involvement keeping investors interested.
If the University of Queensland’s vaccine is successful, it would make Australia much less dependent on global supply chains. The partnership with CSL will see the $128 billion biotech giant produce the doses, which could add up to tens of millions by 2021, in theory supplying enough for the Australian population.
University of Queensland vice-chancellor Peter Hoj says it was an “incredible luxury” to have locally held intellectual property for the vaccine.
He is also quick to point out that no single product can eradicate the pandemic.
“One vaccine is not enough. I think what the governments across the world should do is see this as a global collaborative effort,” he said during an event with the Committee for Economic Development of Australia this week.
CSL is also urging caution about the commercialisation. “It’s important to note that vaccine development is a complex process and this stage of research development contains a high risk of failure. Right now it is not possible to say with any certainty whether the vaccine will be effective, however initial results are promising,” a CSL spokeswoman said.
COVID-19 research is a new frontier and the industry’s ability to manufacture and distribution at scale remains a mystery. Even projects gearing up for phase 3 clinical trials have not yet locked down the exact blueprint for wide-scale production.
US biotech Moderna, which has buoyed global sharemarkets in recent weeks with its vaccine trial results, is working on several international deals to ensure its stock can be produced and stored safely at scale.
Dr Ogden, whose fund has held shares in Moderna since its IPO, said that challenge is all the more difficult because teams are all working remotely.
“They all have to do this from their homes.”
Professor Petrovsky has also been hitting the phone in recent weeks, talking with international manufacturers to ensure Vaxine could deliver the doses if its work is successful. He’s wary some global firms working on treatments may end up over-promising and under-delivering on supply.
“When everyone wakes up to the fact in 6 months time that certain companies can’t produce 1 billion doses in 12 months, or even a tenth of this, then a lot of countries are going to find themselves in trouble with no vaccine supplies at all.”
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.