Garvan's coronavirus research

Our expertise in antibody research, immunology, and genomics is being applied to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has initiated an unprecedented global research effort on a single virus. At Garvan, our researchers responded immediately to the pandemic. We are driving or collaborating on projects locally and globally to develop new ways to treat and prevent infection with coronavirus, and learn more about the virus to inform better global treatment strategies.

As there are no guarantees on which treatment or vaccine will be effective, researchers must take as many different approaches as possible.

Garvan’s excellence in antibody research, immunology, cellular genomics and whole genome sequencing is well positioned to contribute valuably to the global research effort to fight COVID-19. We are using cutting-edge technology to drive innovative research projects, with our focus firmly on improving outcomes for patients.

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Key areas of investigation

Professor Daniel Christ
Professor Daniel Christ

Engineering antibodies for COVID-19 protection and therapy

A research team led by Professor Daniel Christ is developing antibodies designed to target surface proteins of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which the virus needs to infect human cells. The potential antiviral therapy could be 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.

“Our expertise and track record in antibody therapeutics position us perfectly to develop therapeutic antibodies for COVID-19. Through Garvan’s Centre for Targeted Therapy, we are mobilising the institute’s capability to move on an urgent therapy for at-risk individuals,” says Professor Christ, who heads the Centre for Targeted Therapy at the Garvan Institute.

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Dr Ira Deveson
Dr Ira Deveson

Tracing coronavirus evolution

Garvan researchers, led by Dr Ira Deveson, are sequencing the coronavirus genome in infected patients to detect genetic variation that may provide critical data to inform Australia’s COVID-19 response in real-time. The team’s work has potential to shed light on how the coronavirus evolves, identify virus sub-strains that may be more or less infectious and crucially, guide better treatments.

“All human cases of coronavirus ultimately descended from a single infected individual, but the virus is rapidly spreading across the globe. Understanding how the virus is evolving is now more crucial than ever, and through Garvan’s cutting-edge Nanopore genome sequencing technology, we are contributing to this global effort,” says Dr Deveson, who leads the Genomic Technologies Group at Garvan’s Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics.

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A/Prof Joseph Powell
A/Prof Joseph Powell

Developing a test to predict COVID-19 infection severity

Around the globe, individuals have vastly different responses to infection with COVID-19 – some have mild or no symptoms, while others suffer severe respiratory symptoms that are fatal.

Garvan researchers, led by Associate Professor Joseph Powell are proposing to use cellular genomics and machine learning techniques to investigate the differences in the immune response between patients with mild and severe symptoms. They hope to develop a test that provides a ‘snapshot’ of the immune cells in a patient’s blood that could predict how severe their respiratory symptoms will be over time.

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A/Prof Sarah Kummerfeld
A/Prof Sarah Kummerfeld

COVID-19 symptoms and links with genetics and chronic disease

A team led by Associate Professor Sarah Kummerfeld are developing a method for investigating COVID-19 in Australians currently enrolled in genomic studies.

The research aims to identify groups of people with mild COVID-19 symptoms, and genetic variation linked to COVID-19 severity, which may provide crucial insights into the underlying causes behind severe symptoms. A further goal of the research is to determine impacts of chronic disease co-morbidities on COVID-19 patients.

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Prof Stuart Tangye
Prof Stuart Tangye

Searching for genes key to COVID-19 protection

Researchers led by Professor Stuart Tangye will undertake crucial research to determine the genetic basis of severe COVID-19. 

Professor Tangye and his colleagues will use whole genome sequencing to identify variants that could predispose healthy individuals to severe COVID-19.

“Every person’s immune system is unique, just like their DNA. We already know of hundreds of gene variants that can change how individuals respond to different pathogens – whether they are highly susceptible or even resistant to infection. Through our research, we hope to seek out such variants in those patients who develop severe COVID-19,” says Professor Stuart Tangye.

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A/Prof Joseph Powell
A/Prof Joseph Powell

Investigating genes linked to severe COVID-19 in immune cells

A team led by Associate Professor Joseph Powell is leading a global effort to uncover how the genetics of different immune cells determines susceptibility, severity and outcomes of COVID-19.

The researchers are analysing the data generated by the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative – a worldwide collaboration aimed at identifying the genetic basis for the immune system’s response to COVID-19. With worldwide cases of COVID-19 on the rise, the number of patient samples is growing daily.

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