Friday, 31 January 2020 10:23

CSIRO joins global team in working to stamp out coronavirus

A scientist working in the secure area at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory. A scientist working in the secure area at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Courtesy CSIRO

Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, has joined the effort to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus that is threatening to spread around the globe.

A statement from the agency said it had been asked to join the effort by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global group that looks to develop vaccines to prevent epidemics.

CSIRO scientists will carry out their work at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, the only physical containment level 4 lab in the country and one of five in the world.

News of the coronavirus first broke on 31 December last year, when the World Health Organisation was alerted to the presence of a number of cases which showed pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China's Hubei Province.

Since then, cases have been detected in a number of countries.

On Friday, the WHO declared a global health emergency, which calls for a co-ordinated international response to prevent the spread of the virus.

animal health lab

The CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong. Supplied

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said: "CSIRO has been on the front line of biosecurity for 100 years. From hosting Australia’s most secure biosecurity lab, to developing the world’s first effective flu treatment and a vaccine for the Hendra virus, to more recent research on pathogens like SARS, CSIRO has a long history in keeping Australians safe from the threat of disease.

“CSIRO is uniquely placed to combine our deep expertise in animal and human health, with capability in genetics, data and machine learning, to help fight this virus – but collaboration is key.

“As the national science agency, we can help bring together every branch of science and experts from across the system to tackle this major global health challenge.”

The CSIRO team will focus on finding out how long the virus takes to develop and replicate, how it affects the respiratory system and how transmission occurs.

“Infectious diseases like the new coronavirus are complex and pose a major challenge to human health,” said Dr Rob Grenfell, director of Health and Biosecurity at CSIRO.

“Through this project we will use our globally unique scientific capability to answer key questions about how the coronavirus behaves.”

Once the CSIRO has sufficient information, it plans to start testing potential vaccines which are being developed by a CEPI-led consortium that includes the University of Queensland and CSIRO.

CEPI chief executive Richard Hatchett said: "The rapid global spread and unique epidemiological characteristics of the novel coronavirus is deeply concerning.

"Partnering with CSIRO, CEPI aims to improve our understanding of this virus and its epidemiological characteristics, which are key components in expediting development of the vaccines the world needs.”

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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