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Australians could soon receive coronavirus-blocking antibodies  

A Victorian COVID-19 initiative is developing virus-blocking antibodies in what researchers hope will become a key vaccine alternative for the elderly and other immune-compromised groups.

The project, led by Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, has successfully used antibodies to prevent coronavirus from infecting human cells under laboratory conditions.

It was one of two government-sponsored coronavirus-fighting initiatives spotlighted by Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday.

Institute associate professor Wai-Hong Tham said antibody-based therapies had been used to treat cancers and multiple immune disorders.

‘We think that it would be an amazing antibody-based tool for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19,’ she said.

The treatment targets the coronavirus’ spiked protein which it uses to enter cells and multiply.

Antibodies block or ‘gum up’ the spikes’ function to interact with human cells and prevent infection.

The Melbourne-based researchers are also developing two types of antibodies to stop mutations escaping.

If the technology works in humans and is approved for use, Prof Tham said it would be administered to protect vulnerable groups including the elderly who wouldn’t be able to mount an immune response to a potential vaccine.

But the public may have to wait a while for theory to be put into practice, with no timeframe for the project’s completion.

‘If we’re very hopeful, we are looking at clinical trials early next year,’ Prof Tham said.

‘But it does take time and for us, the most important thing is to make it safe and effective.’

In another project led by a group at Monash University, experts have developed the national COVID-19 clinical guidelines to connect doctors with up-to-date advice and treatments.

The taskforce, consisting of 30 national peak clinical groups, was formed after Australian clinicians were ‘bombarded’ with claims and counterclaims on COVID-19 treatments early in the pandemic.

‘We work around the clock every night, searching all around the world for any COVID-19-related research,’ Monash University associate professor Julian Elliott said.

‘We evaluate and summarise that, and then feed that through to our expert clinical guideline panels … who are then updating the guidelines every week.’

More than 100,000 Australian and overseas clinicians are now using the guidelines.

The Victorian government says it has invested more than $14.7 million in 17 coronavirus-combating projects across the state’s medical research institutes and universities.

‘It’s unlocking some of the mysteries of this virus,’ Mr Andrews said of the work.

Other initiatives focus on virus transmission, its long-term impacts on the body and using existing drugs for treatment.

Meanwhile, early testing of a vaccine candidate at the University of Queensland has resulted in positive indications about effectiveness in humans.

The findings from the pre-clinical trials conducted on hamsters have been reported to the International Society for Vaccines.

Project co-leader and UQ Associate Professor Keith Chappell said the immune response in the animals was better than the average level of antibodies in recovered humans.

In the trial, the potential vaccine provided protection against virus replication and reduced lung inflammation.

‘It also induces a strong T-cell response and showed strong results when it came to data relating to manufacturability,’ Professor Chappell said.

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