Burnet secures $3m funding to help bolster COVID-19 pandemic protections

Burnet Institute

23 December, 2021

Burnet Institute has received three million dollars in Victorian Government funding to further progress vaccine development and provide valuable new therapeutics protections against COVID-19 variants.

The funding will support two initiatives – Dimeric IgA therapeutic monoclonal antibody technology and Potent biologicals for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 - both among a pipeline of Burnet COVID-19 therapeutic technologies.

Blocking COVID-19 variant transmission

The funding will facilitate the development of antibody technology that aims to provide immediate, and long-lasting protection from COVID-19 infection in the upper respiratory tract.

The development of the Dimeric IgA therapeutic monoclonal antibody technology is being led by Associate Professor David Anderson, Burnet Deputy Director and Professor Heidi Drummer, Program Director of Disease Elimination.

“The work brings together multiple technologies across complementary teams at Burnet and addresses the key issue of how to block transmission of current and future variants of COVID-19 using a therapeutic technology that targets mucosal surfaces where COVID-19 enters our respiratory system,“ Professor Drummer said.

Current vaccines don’t allow for IgG antibodies to reach the upper airways in significant amounts, and therefore cannot stop infection and virus replication at those sites, resulting in onward transmission.

This is especially important in relation to highly transmissible COVID-19 variants.

While the available vaccines provide very good protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, data from Israel, UK and USA suggests their efficacy against infection with Delta may be as low as 60 per cent.

“Current vaccines are very effective at preventing severe disease in most people, but they are much less effective against transmission,” Associate Professor Anderson said.

“And for some groups such as healthcare workers even a sub-clinical infection can result in quarantine of whole clinical teams in an already over-stretched workforce.

“Our mucosally-targeted preventative approach will act as an extra barrier, effectively a long-acting form of biological PPE to prevent infection occurring in the first place."

The funding will help drive preclinical studies, testing, manufacturing planning and clinical studies; towards commercialisation of the technology, which will help bolster Victoria’s pandemic preparedness.

A new vaccine approach using potent decoys

The Victorian Government funding will also help facilitate research on potent decoy biologicals, which address the current need to continuously develop new vaccines and antibodies to counter the changing virus.

Professor Mark Hogarth, Head of the Immune Therapies Group at Burnet Institute and Dr Bruce Wines, a molecular geneticist and antibody engineer, are working as part of a project team with the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne and the WHO Collaborating Centre.

“The biological drugs have the capacity to neutralise ALL strains of the current virus, which have the further benefit of future-proofing our security against future pandemics caused by this type of virus,” Professor Hogarth said.

The approach to both prevent and treat COVID-19 has major points of difference with that of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.

The ACE2-Fc decoys are designed to be effective against future emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2.

“Because the drugs are based on the virus receptor, the virus cannot escape the drug,” Professor Hogarth said.

He said the development of the ACE2-Fc drugs was driven by their clear biosecurity and economic significance.

“The ACE2-Fc drugs can be potentially rolled out early in the emergence of a future SARS coronavirus outbreak to avoid the economic damage and social dislocation experienced in COVID-19,” he said.

Read more about our COVID-19 work

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Burnet Institute

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