Vaccine tech to help combat next pandemic

·2-min read

Research and development during the coronavirus pandemic will help Australia tackle the next public health crisis, experts believe.

Manufacturers have been able to produce COVID-19 vaccines in record time over the past two years, with new mRNA technology proving a game-changer.

But now that same technology could be used to curb the threat of other potentially dangerous coronaviruses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and SARS.

"They have that real potential to be global pandemics," according to Burnet Institute Deputy Director Professor James Beeson.

"So there's an opportunity there to think about common approaches that could work against multiple pathogens. It could be drugs or it could be vaccines."

Mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya virus could also pose a threat in Australia, with the diseases spreading rapidly in parts of Asia and the tropics.

Japanese encephalitis, another mosquito-borne disease, already had an impact earlier this year, with five Australians dying from the previously uncommon condition.

"We don't really know why it happened," University of Queensland Professor Alexander Khromykh told AAP.

"But the climate is warming up so we can't exclude the possibility that a particular mosquito species that is active in the tropical region will start moving down south and establish virus spread."

These conditions - and some of the 20 others listed by the World Health Organisation as neglected diseases - could pose future challenges.

But the lessons learnt from COVID-19 and advancements in mRNA technology could help Australians confront the next pandemic, Dr Khromykh said.

"The rapid development of vaccines and diagnostic technologies have been made possible by very significant prior research carried out on other virus infections," he said.

"Continuing funding of such research is absolutely vital and will allow us to train and maintain critical personnel, as well as accumulate the real essential knowledge we need for rapid response for current and future threats."

Some of the major vaccine companies are establishing bases in Australia, both to produce more COVID-19 vaccines and to continue research in other areas.

Moderna, which is setting up a manufacturing hub in Victoria, has partnered with the Burnet Institute to develop new vaccines for some of these neglected or emerging diseases.

"It's definitely exciting," Dr Beeson said.

"We have a pathway to take the research from the discovery side through to developing it into a vaccine that can be given to people."

Moderna is expected to start producing its mRNA vaccines in Victoria in 2024, with about 100 million preparations forecast annually.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting