The global and national context

An integrated network

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a rapid acceleration in medical research, with much research and funding globally focused on finding a vaccine or effective drugs. Many billions of dollars are being poured into COVID-19 vaccine and anti-viral drug research and development.

The stature of the Australian partners within AVRA immediately opens the possibilities for formal partnerships and collaborations with international vaccine research and development organisations playing critical roles in the global response to COVID-19. This includes the International Vaccine Institute, the Jenner Institute, and the US NIH Vaccine Research Center, as well as international funding bodies including the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), the CDC, Wellcome Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and coordinating agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Australian context.

The establishment of AVRA will provide Australia with an integrated network to address infectious disease threats through vaccine development, and the critical mass to formally partner in a globally coordinated arrangement with the leading vaccine research and development capabilities internationally. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak the Australian Department of Health announced a $2.4 billion Health Package – of relevance to AVRA, the package includes an allocation of $30 million across three research areas, in line with the priorities agreed at the Coronavirus Research Roundtable—vaccine development, anti-viral development and respiratory medicine research. Additionally, Medical Products are one of six priority areas in the $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Initiative to help manufacturers scale up and create jobs. CSIRO is also advocating for investment in science and technology to support COVID-19: Recovery and resilience. These parallel activities and infrastructure will dovetail with the AVRA initiative.

In the vaccine research and development field, investment from philanthropic and other foundations plays an important and increasingly significant role. For example, the Wellcome Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided at least $460 million to CEPI before COVID-19 was identified. In the last two years, CEPI has used that money to provide grants for some leading-edge biotechnologies that could revolutionise vaccine research and production (e.g. UQ’s molecular clamp technology). The AVRA partners have a demonstrated strong track record in attracting philanthropic investment to leverage government and industry investment. Whilst the funding for vaccine development is no doubt competitive, there is a willingness to back multiple high-calibre teams and programs given the heightened awareness of what is at stake for vulnerable populations and regions, and the world more broadly.