THE Australian Animal Health Laboratory is playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19, with the testing of potential vaccines now underway.
The vital work is being done CSIRO's high-containment biosecurity facility in Geelong, which is primarily designed as a defense for Australia's livestock industries against the threats of exotic and emerging animal diseases.
Now the focus is on human health and finding a effective defense against COVID-19.
That work is being done in addition to maintaining Australia's animal disease preparedness programs, particularly with the deadly pig disease African swine fever recently detected in neighbouring PNG.
Globally, the deadly COVID-19 virus has so far infected more than a million people and resulted in 46,896deaths. In Australia more than 5000 people have tested positive with 23 fatalities.
Testing of the potential COVID-19 vaccines expected to take three months.
Last year CSIRO partnered with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global group that aims to better manage disease outbreaks by speeding up the development of vaccines.
In January, CSIRO started work on the virus SARS CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19. In consultation with the World Health Organisation, vaccine candidates from The University of Oxford and Inovio Pharmaceuticals were identified to undergo the first pre-clinical trials at CSIRO.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said the testing was a critical milestone in the fight against COVID-19.
"CSIRO researchers are working around-the-clock to combat this disease which is affecting so many - whether it's at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory or at our state-of-the-art biologics manufacturing facility - we will keep working until this viral enemy is defeated," Dr Marshall said.
The COVID-19 vaccine candidates are being tested for efficacy, but also to evaluate how to best administer the vaccine, including an intra-muscular injection and innovative approaches like a nasal spray.
AAHL director Professor Trevor Drew is leading CSIRO's COVID-19 virus and vaccine work.
"We have been studying SARS CoV-2 since January and getting ready to test the first vaccine candidates as soon as they are available," Professor Drew said.
"We are carefully balancing operating at speed with the critical need for safety in response to this global public health emergency."
AAHL was opened in 1985 and is the only high biocontainment facility in the southern hemisphere working with highly dangerous and exotic pathogens, including diseases that transfer from animals to people.
"In 2016 CSIRO created the Health and Biosecurity research group who work with our scientists at AAHL to tackle our national and international health and biosecurity challenges together, so we can better protect the health of our people, environment, agriculture and industries and our way of life," Dr Marshall said.
"This, combined with our data science and manufacturing capability in our biological production facility, means we were well prepared to help Australia in One Health with disease identification, prevention and management, to deliver the real world solutions that our nation expects from science."