HomeArticlesHealthInstitute for Glycomics tackle COVID-19
Griffith University’s Professor Mark von Itzstein

Professor Mark von Itzstein, founder and director of Institute for Glycomics. Image supplied.

Institute for Glycomics tackle COVID-19

AAP | May 2020

Griffith University’s expert scientists target SARS-CoV-2 to discover new vaccines and drugs to prevent or cure COVID-19.

Whilst the impact of the COVID-19 crisis continues to devastate the Gold Coast economy, a glimmer of hope is on the horizon in the form of expert scientists from Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics targeting the virus SARS-CoV-2 to discover new vaccines and drugs to prevent or cure COVID-19.

As more than 35 companies and academic institutions around the world race to create a vaccine, Griffith University’s Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Professor Michael Good AO, Professor Michael Jennings, and Professor Johnson Mak, world-renowned research scientists in their various fields of infectious diseases research, are working around the clock, to prevent or cure COVID-19.

“This multi-pronged approach between highly skilled infectious diseases experts in the Institute and Queensland Health Departments, including Gold Coast University Hospital and Forensic Scientific Services, coupled with our Institute’s state-of-the-art research facilities and equipment, provides much hope in the fight against COVID-19,” says Professor von Itzstein, founder and director of Institute for Glycomics.

Professor Michael Good and his team based within the Institute’s Laboratory of Vaccines for the Developing World says combined immunological, virological and clinical expertise will be required for success.

“The need for hard work will not be an impediment. Our country is facing a health, societal and economic upheaval, but the cause is biological, and vaccination is known to be the most cost-effective way to fight infectious agents and improve public health,” says Professor Good. “History tells us that rarely do we strike gold on our first attempt.”

“It is important that many different approaches to developing a vaccine proceed in parallel. We simply do not have the luxury to wait on the results of one vaccine trial to see if we need to adopt a different strategy,” says Professor Good. “We are optimistic that with hard work, one or more of the various approaches that we as a nation are following will be successful.”

Professor von Itzstein says his research group’s approach to finding a cure for COVID-19 was unique in the country as the human respiratory models they employ were the closest to a real human system, without working in a human patient.

“Our approach to the rapid discovery of therapeutics against COVID-19 in collaboration with our Queensland Health collaborators and our German colleagues in iCAIR gives us the best chance to deliver a successful outcome in finding a cure against this pandemic virus,” he says.

“It is difficult to imagine that we will have a vaccine in use before 18 months,” says Professor von Itzstein. “There is substantial safety trials and then trials to measure how effective any vaccine candidate is in humans, before it can be broadly used in the clinic.” 

Even if a vaccine is fast-tracked for development and approval and available within 12-18 months Professor von Itzstein says it really depends on which vaccine candidate is taken forward, in terms of enough doses available for everyone.

“Some maybe more scalable than others,” he says. 

The Gold Coast was one of the first to feel the financial effects when China introduced travel bans in January, at a time when the Gold Coast would normally welcome thousands of people during the Lunar New Year. Destination Gold Coast estimates, at a minimum, COVID-19 has already cost Gold Coast’s tourism sector $1 billion. That figure will increase by at least $310 million every month.

 “If anything, the coronavirus crisis has demonstrated just how vital our mission as a research institute is in the fight against diseases of global impact, and it’s incredibly important that our work continues even under these challenging circumstances,” says Professor von Itzstein. “Our institute’s mission is fighting diseases of global impact. Of course we want to find solutions to COVID-19 as quickly as possible so that we can then assist curing the economic disease that we are now confronted with.”

***This feature was originally published on AAP and has been produced in collaboration with City of Gold Coast.

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