Warnings from the scientific community around the impact of a global pandemic have largely gone unheeded, despite several recent outbreaks, including pandemic influenza, SARS and MERS. Even continual Ebola outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa failed to capture sufficient global attend to ensure globally coordinated pandemic readiness. This has now shifted with the emergence of COVID-19 and while we are still in the early phase of this pandemic, it has impacted every corner of the globe and changed life as we know it.
The University of Queensland (UQ) received ~$15M in funding from the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in early 2019 as seed funding to establish a rapid response vaccine pipeline, based on the “Molecular Clamp”. The Molecular clamp is a broadly applicable platform technology that facilitates recombinant expression of viral glycoproteins in subunit form without loss of native antigenicity. The molecular clamp efficiently stabilizes soluble viral fusion proteins in their native trimeric 'pre-fusion' form. This form is equivalent to that expressed on the virion surface and the principle target for a protective neutralizing antibody response.
Since Jan 2020, working alongside CEPI and a team of Australian and International collaborators, the UQ team shifted its Molecular Clamp rapid response program to development of a vaccine candidate for COVID-19. We have moved rapidly through pre-clinical testing and are currently completing early phase clinical studies. We have also partnered with CSL, who are currently advancing both large-scale manufacturing and pivotal stage clinical development for widespread distribution and use.
Prof Munro is a Senior Group Leader at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland and Director of the NCRIS funded National Biologics Facility. His research is focussed on the development, engineering and production of Biologics (complex, protein-based therapeutics) using mammalian cell culture systems. Prof Munro is also Program Director of the CEPI funded Rapid Response Vaccine pipeline and in this role has been part of the UQ team developing a clinical stage vaccine candidate for COVID-19. Prior to this, he was Executive Director of Process Development at Amgen Inc., based in California. Prof. Munro has a PhD in Protein Biochemistry from UQ and completed postdoctoral studies in cell biology and developmental genetics at the Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School and the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge.