There is currently a major pandemic of COVID-19 caused by a novel strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. The virus has been responsible for infecting millions and fatalities are increasing as countries and communities struggle to contain the virulent outbreak. There are no effective treatments or vaccines available and older people and those with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease and diabetes are more susceptible to more severe disease and death.
Here at the Centenary Institute our world-leading medical researchers are working hard to help overcome this once-in-a-generation threat with multiple research teams pursuing a range of potential treatment strategies in collaboration with some of the foremost health and medical institutions in the country.
As a leader in respiratory, infectious and cardiovascular disease research, we at the Centenary have both unique and highly relevant platforms that enable us to rapidly develop and test new treatments for coronavirus. These include a level 3 high containment (PC3) facility that will allow us to use live SARS-CoV-2 virus to assess infections of human cells and experimental animals. We also have access to primary human respiratory cells including from more susceptible patients, and unique mouse models of chronic conditions.
Partnerships and research collaborations will be key to defeating the impacts of the devastating coronavirus pandemic. We have assembled a collaborative team with the University of Sydney, UTS and Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) to specifically develop effective treatments for COVID-19, especially for more vulnerable people. This grouping will harness multi-disciplinary expertise and capabilities. Together we will be able to rapidly develop, test and trial new COVID-19 treatments.
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We are using non-conventional methods that rely on understanding the mechanism of viral infection and the pathogenesis of the disease to provide fast new ways of developing effective therapeutics. We are also part of a developing clinical trials network that will test new treatments in COVID-19 patients.
There are three focal points to our approach based on our facilities and skills:
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that, in severe cases, causes depleted oxygen levels, viral pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome and death. Centenary has a unique position in Australia, housing one of the world’s top respiratory research groups together with extensive infectious disease expertise, and the highly specialised PC3 containment facilities necessary for safe investigation of live viruses. We will use our human lung cells and proprietary mouse models of lung disease to see how the live virus enters the lung and causes disease. This is an essential first step to finding potential treatments and cures.
SARS-CoV-2 has the most substantial impact on the aged, those with chronic disease and also males. We have world-leading expertise in understanding the molecular basis of ageing and relevant chronic inflammatory illnesses, focussing on diabetes, respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological diseases. Identifying targets specific for drug development and testing treatments for the most susceptible will be a key focus. Together, we will look to define the molecular basis of COVID-19 in the elderly and how age, chronic diseases and male gender increase susceptibility.
We are developing and testing new therapies. These include:
a) drugs that target inflammatory responses to reduce excessive inflammation that we show are effective in other inflammatory respiratory diseases (such as asthma, COPD and influenza).
b) using state-of-the-art screening technologies (such as RNA-sequencing, proteomics and CRISPR) to quickly discover and refine critical molecules required for viral pathogenesis.
c) using revolutionary techniques to rapidly optimize new biologic drugs that potently and safely target the virus, which can be scaled up for mass production to initiate trials.
d) developing synthetic virus-neutralising particles that can enter COVID-19 infected cells and specifically suppress viral growth.
Once fully developed, all of these systems can be rapidly adapted to future pandemics and now is the optimal time to maximise their potential.
Clinical translation. Centenary is adjacent to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, SLHD. Our linkages with the NSW clinical trials network will enable rapid translation of pre-clinically effective therapies into clinical application to patients. This will allow integration of the analysis of patient characteristics and responses, to inform and refine laboratory research, target and drug identification and clinical trial design.
Cooperation. Our partnership will provide a framework for translational, bench-to-bedside collaboration between Centenary, the University of Sydney, UTS and SLHD.
The long-term goal is to develop a robust platform that can be rapidly applied to COVID-19 and future pandemics, reducing the timeline to the availability of effective interventions.
COVID-19 will only be defeated by the collaborative efforts of medical research. Overcoming the coronavirus challenge and helping to save lives is an immediate priority here at the Centenary Institute.
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