The Australian government has announced the establishment of a new therapeutic research centre in Melbourne to develop a drug breakthrough akin to mRNA vaccine technology for future pandemics.
Philanthropist Geoffrey Cumming fast-tracked the development with a donation of $250 million ($US171 million), the largest ever medical research gift in Australian history.
It will be named Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics in honour of the Canadian and New Zealand businessman.
“We aim to create solutions to minimise the impact of future pandemics and create greater global resiliency in the decades ahead,” Cumming said in a statement.
Since 2014, the government has also contributed significantly, committing $1.3 billion in medical research funding, including $75 million to the Cumming Global Centre.
It also recently bought Moderna’s first mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility outside North America to Melbourne.
The University of Melbourne, the benefactor, said the new centre would focus on rapidly developing, testing, and commercialising new treatments within months of a pandemic outbreak and plans to recruit international experts.
“The University of Melbourne thanks Geoff Cumming for his incredibly generous donation, and the Victorian government for its contribution to pandemic therapeutic research,” the University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Prof. Duncan Maskell said.
“If a therapeutic drug had been available at scale in July 2020, in line with COVID-19 vaccine approval, it could have prevented millions of deaths globally.”
Prof. Sharon Lewin, the director of the Peter Doherty Institute, will also serve as the director of the Cumming Global Centre.
“The centre will focus on research in emerging, high-potential molecular platforms and to develop new therapeutics with unprecedented speed,” Lewin said.
“We plan to do the hard work of basic science; new technologies that might one day be the mRNA of therapeutics.”
The initial focus will be on therapies to tackle coronaviruses and influenza, but researchers would seek to create “platform technologies” equivalent to mRNA.
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The Cumming Global Centre will initially be based within the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity before being located at the new Australian Institute for Infectious Diseases (AIID) set to open in 2027.