The development of two COVID-19 vaccines that would not have to be stored at extremely low temperatures has won $1.5 million in federal government funding for clinical trials.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are trialling a “next generation” vaccine that still uses mRNA technology but eliminates the need to be stored at very low temperature.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Vaccines based around mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology can be built almost as soon as the genetic sequence of a new virus is isolated and can be made quickly, cheaply and in huge quantities simply by combining chemicals in a vial.

By comparison, a flu vaccine often needs to be grown inside a chicken egg, which is expensive, difficult and gives the virus a chance to mutate before it is extracted.

But a key stumbling block to the roll-out of the mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer’s – which has been approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration – is that it has to be stored at minus 70 degrees.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said by the middle of this year, volunteers aged from 18 to 75 years would be recruited for an accelerated clinical trial at the University of Melbourne of two next-generation COVID-19 vaccines.

“Following encouraging results during preclinical testing, the government’s support is expediting the process to move research efforts from the lab and into human trials,” Mr Hunt said.

The University of Melbourne project, led by Professor Terry Nolan, was among six across Australia – three of them in Melbourne – that had received grants worth a total $10.1 million to conduct “high potential” COVID-19-related clinical trials, Mr Hunt announced on Sunday.

He said each of these “extremely promising Australian innovations”, which would begin clinical trials from early this year, “has the potential to dramatically shift the global battle against COVID-19” with the knowledge gained possibly helping fight future pandemics.

Among other grant recipients, a team at the University of New South Wales won a grant of $2.3 million to examine neurological recovery from COVID-19 using statins.


And another University of Melbourne team received a $2.5 million grant to develop therapy to manage persistent cardiovascular effects of COVID-19.

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute will look into whether germicidal ultraviolet light works to prevent COVID-19 transmission in aged care, while Flinders University will study the ability of 3D-printed face masks to match facial shape and prevent leaks.

The sixth grant, for $1.1 million, goes to the University of Melbourne research into whether specialised nutritional supplementation protects aged care residents from the pandemic.

The money comes from the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

Mr Hunt said a number of other clinical trials had been identified as strong candidates for possible future funding.

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