New collaboration aims to push back against viruses with pandemic risk

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Health Security Systems Australia (HSSA) is working with an expert collaboration to develop a novel therapeutic platform technology to combat multiple viral pathogens with pandemic potential.

The partnership includes the University of Melbourne at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), The University of Queensland’s National Biologics Facility, and industry partner Biointelect.

The Health Security Systems Australia Division, established in July 2021 as a division of the Defence Materials Technology Centre, now known as DMTC, aims to build sovereign industrial and research capabilities for Australia.

The collaboration plans to progress the development of potent monoclonal antibodies for the treatment and prevention of viral infections, including orthopoxviruses such as monkeypox and smallpox, and henipaviruses such as nipah and hendra.

HSSA said these pathogens are increasingly causing outbreaks in the Asia-Pacific region and currently have limited options for treatment, making them a threat to both public health and the health of military personnel or civilian first responders deployed in the region.

HSSA identified the project via a national call for collaborative proposals in 2022, with funding support from the Department of Defence.

One of the key themes of the call was the need for anti-infectives and platform technologies for infectious disease threats. This involves the production of monoclonal antibody therapeutics that have activity against multiple pathogens of interest.

The collaboration's experts will obtain blood samples from patients recovering from infection, recruited through existing human ethics approval procedures. It will then isolate antibody-producing cells, and sequence these antibodies for their ability to target multiple pathogens. They will generate the cross-reactive antibodies and test their ability to neutralise various pathogens. Successful candidates will then be tested for manufacturability at scale, for future potential commercial sales of this fielded product.

Developing and engineering monoclonal antibody products to prevent or treat multiple infectious disease threats provides a pathway to strengthen preparedness for future pandemics or outbreaks of viral diseases.

Project lead, the University of Melbourne’s Dr Adam Wheatley, who is laboratory head at the Doherty Institute, said, “A painfully important lesson from COVID-19 is that treatment and prevention options need to be developed in advance of widespread outbreaks to maximise impact. This demands the establishment of proven pipelines for rapidly translating novel targets into therapeutic candidates as a vital element of preventing, or fast-tracking our response to, a future pandemic outbreak.”

HSSA general manager, Dr Felicia Pradera, added, “A broad spectrum therapeutic against viral pathogens with pandemic potential is a vital requirement to enhance sovereign health security. We look forward to working with the team to help develop this capability."