Researchers at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong will lead a $1.7 million project to identify new COVID-19 treatments.
This includes treatments for ‘long-COVID’ — instances where individuals who have contracted the virus experience symptoms for an extended period of time.
Project leader Dr S.S. Vasan said there was an urgent need for safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 treatments that specifically targeted the virus, in addition to vaccines.
“A great strategy to find potential COVID-19 treatments is to repurpose drugs already approved for other diseases, but the current methods to do this are expensive, time-consuming and not fit-for-purpose,” Vasan said.
The project has received $1 million in funding from the Australian government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), with CSIRO contributing the rest.
Vasan said the funding would enable scientists to develop a multi-tissue drug screening tool, tailored for infections by SARS-CoV-2 and all its variants of concern. This could help fast-track suitable drug candidates to human clinical trials within a year.
The researchers will use four types of human tissues — lower respiratory tract, lung, neural and cardiac — which have been chosen based on how SARS-CoV-2 infects people. By differentiating between healthy and diseased states of key human tissues, the scientists will determine if a drug is able to restore a diseased tissue to a healthier state.
The project builds on an ongoing systems biology collaboration on the long-term impacts of COVID-19 through the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, comprising Barwon Health, CSIRO and Deakin University.
Academics from Monash University, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Melbourne, and the University of New South Wales are also involved in the initiative.
The CSIRO has been involved in a range of COVID-19 response activities, including preclinical testing of potential vaccines, understanding the virus and its mutations, monitoring wastewater, supporting manufacturing of surgical masks, and analysing and sharing trends in data and the impact on health services.