Victoria creates Australia’s first mRNA vaccine with scientists hopeful it could protect against Covid variants
Researchers say the new vaccine can be adjusted as Covid variants, such as Omicron, emerge
Victorian scientists have created Australia’s first mRNA vaccine, which could be adjusted to fight off aggressive new Covid-19 variants.
The new vaccine was developed in Melbourne in five months by Monash University researchers, pharmaceutical manufacturer IDT Australia and the Doherty Institute.
It is now subject to clinical trials and regulatory approvals.
About 450 doses have been produced at the Boronia site, enabling 150 people to take part in phase one trials from January, with results expected later in 2022.
However, it may take years before the vaccine is rolled out more widely, which will only occur if it passes three stages of clinical trials, and if that data is approved by Therapeutic Goods Administration. Not all drugs and treatments make it to the final stages of clinical trials.
Victoria’s innovation minister, Jaala Pulford, said it was a “significant milestone” and the first time Australia had developed an mRNA vaccine of any kind.
“Australia has manufactured for trial our first Covid-19 mNRA vaccine, this is also Australia’s first mRNA product that has been manufactured,” she said on Tuesday.
“We are the only place in this country that has the capacity in pharmaceutical manufacturing, but also in scientific development, to do this.”
Pulford said the technology may lead to a “whole new frontier of individualised medicine” and could help scientists to develop medicine for others diseases including cancer.
Monash University professor of pharmaceutical biology Colin Pouton said the new vaccine was different to existing Covid vaccinations.
“Existing vaccines really are vaccines that expose our immune system to the whole spike protein and the coronavirus,” he said.
“We’re vaccinating with the receptor-binding domain, it’s about a quarter of the spike protein.”
He said the vaccine could be used to protect against new Covid variants, including Omicron, although it is still not known if that variant is already protected by existing vaccines.
“We just don’t know yet, because it’s only infected a relatively small number of people,” Pouton said.
“The beauty of the mRNA system, and also recombinant protein, is that you can retune this vaccine very quickly, within weeks, for a new variant that appears.”
He said the vaccine was created to fight against the Beta Covid-19 variant, which has since died out, but also started out in southern Africa.
“That’s the only strain so far that looked like vaccines were going to not do so well against,” he said.
“Choosing the Beta was actually a very good model for a variant that might actually challenge the capacity of vaccines to continue to protect.”