MRFF funding boosts COVID-19 research

Three COVID-19 research projects will receive funding from the MRFF.

Three research programs which are developing new classes of medicines for coronavirus (COVID-19) have been boosted by funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

One program is led by University of Melbourne Professor Kanta Subbarao Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research in Influenza at the Doherty Institute.

Professor Subbarao is working closely with stem cell biologists at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Monash University and University of Melbourne. These scientists will use tissue models derived from human stem cells to identify drugs with antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The Doherty Institute and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research Berghofer will kick start this important work, with other laboratories able to join in coming months.

Another program, led by Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham at the Walter and Eliza Hill Institute in collaboration with Doherty Institute co-investigators Professor Dale Godfrey, Dr Amy Chung, Dr Adam Wheatley and Professor Stephen Kent, is developing new ‘biologics’ to prevent or treat COVID-19. Biologics are medicines that mimic naturally occurring proteins such as antibodies – immune proteins that fight infection.

A third program is led by University of Melbourne Professor Monica Slavin, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. This is an adaptive and rapid implementation trial of novel therapies to prevent and treat COVID-19 infection in high risk cancer patients.

Further MRFF-funded research will be led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and includes the VirDUB research project which aims to develop medicines that stop COVID-19 from hijacking human cells and disabling their anti-viral defences.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Jim McCluskey welcomed the funding announcement from the MRFF.

“This is an impressive level of support from the MRFF for these important COVID-19-related research programs,” Professor McCluskey said.

“With remarkable agility, the MRFF has quickly mobilised to support strategic research programs. It is an arms race against the virus and the University and its partners have moved swiftly to engage in this challenge. The teams of scientists involved in these projects are linked by deep collaborative networks in Melbourne and beyond.

“I thank Minister Hunt for his support which will enable the scientists leading these research programs to improve their understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and improve the health of people around the world.”