03 June 2020
Research at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to develop an antiviral therapy for both COVID-19 protection and treatment has received a crucial boost by the Australian Government.
The potential antibody therapy is particularly suited to at-risk individuals, including the elderly and chronically ill patients, and could be administered as a preventative therapy to health workers on the frontline.
The grant, awarded through the Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), will support the Garvan Institute’s research efforts to fight COVID-19 and was announced by the Health Minister the Hon. Greg Hunt MP this week.
“This Federal funding is a crucial contribution to our urgent COVID-19 research,” says Professor Daniel Christ, Director of the Centre for Targeted Therapy, who is leading the research with Garvan’s Executive Director Professor Chris Goodnow.
“Our expertise and track record in antibody therapeutics position us perfectly to develop therapeutic antibodies for COVID-19. We are mobilising Garvan’s capability to move on an urgent therapy for at-risk individuals.”
Engineering antibodies for COVID-19 protection and therapy
Garvan researchers are developing human monoclonal antibodies, which bypass the genetic variability of people’s own immune responses, and could be given to provide immediate immunity, both for the treatment of COVID-19 and for prevention, to at-risk individuals.
In collaboration with the UNSW Sydney’s Kirby Institute, Garvan’s Professor Daniel Christ and Professor Chris Goodnow, have already developed a portfolio of human antibodies that bind strongly to the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of SARS-CoV-2 – the receptor binding domain of the spike protein – which the virus needs to infect human cells. For this, the researchers leveraged a unique human antibody gene library technology, based on research on the antibodies from people who recovered from SARS following the 2003 outbreak.
The team will further develop the antibodies, to neutralise the virus more effectively than natural antibodies, such as those generated by a potential vaccine.
“Many naturally arising antibodies against the virus only bind weakly. Genetic engineering allows us to make antibodies that latch on to the virus and never let go, and to make an endless supply of those antibodies as biological drugs,” Professor Christ explains.
The next step will be led by the viral therapeutic clinical trial specialists at the Kirby Institute to test the safety and effectiveness of these antibodies this year. If they are developed successfully, these human monoclonal antibodies could be easily administered once a month and could provide a rapid and critically important complement to vaccines.
“We’re really pleased to welcome this Government funding for our antibody development. As generous as it is, the reality is that this is a $5 million research project, and we continue to require critical community support for Garvan’s COVID-19 research initiatives,” says Professor Chris Goodnow.