SVI joins response to tackle COVID-19

Posted: 06th March 2020

SVI’s National Serology Reference Laboratory (NRL) has joined with The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the Burnet Institute to tackle the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The new Victorian consortium will receive $4 million from the Victorian State Government to develop diagnostic technologies, clinical research and strengthen the public health response to the virus.

NRL’s focus will be on developing a biorepository of well-characterised patient samples, along with antibody reference and confirmatory tests. These are required in order to ensure the accuracy of new diagnostic tests as they become available.

Currently, diagnosis of COVID-19 relies on the testing for the virus’ nucleic acid, which is only detectable early in the infection. After infection is cleared, the only way of determining if a person has been infected is by detecting antibodies in their blood. NRL will develop assays to detect and confirm the presence of viral antibodies and register the tests to allow their use in Australia. This will allow better tracking of the disease and will help progress research into vaccine development. The group will work closely with collaborator A/Prof David Anderson at the Burnet Institute.

NRL’s expertise, developed over three decades of fighting HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections, will be vital in the response to COVID-19. Its capabilities in the evaluation and validation of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases is recognised internationally, both in its designation as a WHO Collaborating Centre and one of only 14 accredited WHO Prequalification Evaluating Laboratories worldwide.

A/Prof Rosemary Ffrench, NRL’s Principal Scientist, says “We are very grateful for the support of the Victorian Government to fast-track diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccine development for COVID-19. These are urgently required to effectively monitor new Coronavirus infections in Australia, aid in the rapid development of much needed anti-viral treatments and to support research and development of a vaccine.”