A vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19 just took a huge step forward

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An Australian team of researchers have developed a target for a vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

This topical article could be used with students in years 8 to 12 studying Biological and Chemical sciences.

Word Count: 455

Credit: University of Queensland

Why This Matters: A vaccine will help control the spread of COVID-19, and provide increased protection for first responders and medical teams.

In just three weeks, an Australian team of researchers have created the first vaccine candidate for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, it has been reported.

The research, by a team from the University of Queensland, has resulted in a huge step forward for developing a vaccine against the virus that has now infected nearly 80,000 people worldwide.

The vaccine target is expected to move into animal testing this week.

“There is still extensive testing to ensure that the vaccine candidate is safe and creates an effective immune response, but the technology and the dedication of these researchers means the first hurdle has been passed,” says the University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj.

Vaccine team working “around the clock”

The team of 20 researchers had been working “around the clock” to develop potential targets for a vaccine, says Paul Young, who heads UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences.

“It started back when China released the sequence back in late January. That gave us the viral genome we needed to take and express,” Young told the ABC.

The team had created over 100 different versions of targets to work out which was the best vaccine candidate.

The next stage is to produce it on a larger scale needed for additional testing, and to determine its effectiveness against the virus. Further studies will occur at both UQ and CSIRO.

Test production of the vaccine has already begun at a CSIRO manufacturing laboratory in Victoria. While the vaccine itself may be further developed, the test batches are produced to ensure the manufacturing process is ready for when the vaccine is finalised.

Researchers said the early research had gone ‘as expected’ and the material created had the properties which allowed the team to proceed with vaccine development.

The success comes as a team at Victoria’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity became the first laboratory to successfully grow and share a lab-grown version of the virus outside of China last week.

Vaccine development on an accelerated timeline

Vaccines typically take many years to develop and test. However the group continues to work to a much-accelerated timetable to keep on track for human clinical testing after the middle of the year.

“The vaccine would be distributed to first responders, helping to contain the virus from spreading around the world,” says Young.

The work in the lab shows the feasibility of using UQ’s ‘molecular clamp’ technology to engineer a vaccine candidate that could be more readily recognised by the immune system, triggering a protective immune response.

UQ is one of only three programs globally, and the only one in Australia, initiated by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), leveraging ‘rapid response’ platforms in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Years: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

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Biological Sciences

Chemical Sciences

Additional: Careers, Technology.

Concepts (South Australia):

Biological Sciences – Form and Function

Chemical Sciences – Change of Matter