The Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) enables and supports strategic national-scale facilities that provide tremendous benefit to the Australian researchers addressing key national and global challenges effectively and efficiently. NCRIS facilities bring together collaborative equipment, resources, analysis tools and, importantly, expert people.
In Australia, there has been over a decade of bi-partisan government support for research infrastructure. This has created a strong, agile, efficient, and accessible national research infrastructure ecosystem able to drive and facilitate collaborations and accelerate research.
Research activities to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 are no exception.
Australia is at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine development with key researchers using institutional and national research infrastructures and cooperating with commercial providers to accelerate COVID-19 responses. For example, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) led vaccine development project at the University of Queensland and, the national science agency, CSIRO represents a systematic response that combines the efforts of national research infrastructure organisations including the Therapeutic Innovation Australia (TIA), Bioplatforms Australia (BPA), and CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP).
The rapid and collaborative response within Australia means CSIRO’s ACDP has already commenced the first stage of testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 and Queensland hospitals have started testing two potential treatments on patients with COVID-19 as part of an international clinical trial involving The University of Queensland.
The national reach and broad ranging capabilities on offer by NCRIS facilities to researchers working to understand and find treatments for COVID-19 are highlighted in the table below:
- large scale cloud computation
- discovery of and access to national and international data assets
- international collaboration and coordination through the Research Data Alliance
- fast, efficient, and reliable research workflows through Virtual Laboratories such as Galaxy Australia.
- additional computation and data resources to support the national and international research community to acquire, process, analyse, store and share data supporting COVID-19 research
- a COVID-19 special call for allocation of computational resources, which is intended to identify and provide resources to research projects directly responding to the pandemic.
- diagnostic imaging
- support of drug and vaccine design and testing
- support of personal protective equipment and medical device development (i.e. ventilators)
- long-term patient outcome monitoring
- clinical tracer production and radiochemical development.
- linkage of patient data
- secure remote-access data environments authorised to hold government data
- disease surveillance
- patient monitoring
- support for vaccine testing
- monitoring of long-term patient outcomes.
- supports the creation, characterisation and curation of pre-clinical model systems for biomedical research
- has been mobilised to rapidly provide support to the national COVID-19 response, including for:
- design and delivery of customised, genetically-engineered (e.g. by CRISPR) animal and cell models
- improved understanding of COVID-19 pathogenesis
- discovery of therapeutic targets
- novel drug design, efficacy, and safety testing
- models and analyses for pre-clinical trials
- vaccine development and testing
- maintaining a source for national and international supply and distribution of customised animal and cell resources
- cryopreservation and reanimation of mouse strains through the Australian Phenome Bank.
- vaccine candidate development
- TGA-licensed GMP testing to support production
- pilot-scale GMP production
- TGA-licenced production of cell therapies for clinical trial and patient use
- patient sample collection and apheresis
- supply and screening of known drug libraries
- drug optimisation and advice on development strategy
- preclinical and toxicological testing of small molecules, biologics and vaccine candidates
- clinical trial support
- launched Pipeline Accelerator COVID-19, a voucher-style researcher access scheme to respond quickly to the needs of researchers and industry engaged in research related to COVID-19.
- disease surveillance
- patient monitoring
- epidemiology support
- support of drug design and testing
- support of vaccine development and testing.
- Physical Containment (PC) 4 Zoonosis Suite
- large and small animal Facility
- Biosecure Immunology Laboratory
- Bioimaging Facility
- providing advanced microscopes and experts to support:
- vaccine development
- COVID-19 test kit development and testing
- PPE quality and effectiveness testing
- development of new materials for medical devices and PPE
- imaging of the COVID-19 virus SARS-CoV-2.
While the above list covers only a selection of NCRIS facilities, it demonstrates how national infrastructures are able to work in concert to address the full research lifecycle, providing powerful sets of tools for Australian researchers on the COVID-19 pandemic and other national and global challenges.