The project is led by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s commercialisation office Wellington UniVentures and the University’s Ferrier Research Institute.
“There are currently three anti-viral drugs approved in some countries for emergency use in the treatment of COVID-19 under specific conditions, while international clinical trials seek to confirm their effectiveness and evaluate a range of other potential drugs,” says Hamish Findlay, General Manager Commercialisation at Wellington UniVentures.
“When an effective drug is identified, there will be heavy international demand. This project is investigating different methods for sourcing and securing anti-virals quickly for New Zealand, so New Zealanders and our Pacific neighbours can access these anti-virals even when international demand is very high.”
The project will identify promising existing anti-virals early, understand how they are made and manufactured, and look to source and secure them for New Zealand, Mr Findlay says.
“The New Zealand government will aim to purchase anti-virals for New Zealand straight from their overseas manufacturers, but demand will be high,” says Professor Richard Furneaux, Director of the Ferrier Research Institute. “This project will ensure that we have a ‘back-up plan’ to be able to get anti-virals here in case international supply is significantly delayed.”
As well as Wellington UniVentures and the Ferrier Research Institute, this project also brings together experts from the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, Callaghan Innovation’s GlycoSyn, ESR, and the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand. The project has received nearly $1 million in funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund.
“We’re proud to say we’ve assembled a group akin to a scientific ‘dream team’ here in New Zealand. This broad approach is similar to that used to develop the MENZB Meningococcal B vaccine,” Mr Findlay says.
“During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our nation will face serious economic challenges and threats to the health of our people,” Professor Furneaux says. “We asked how we could contribute to New Zealand and our Pacific community during these times. An anti-viral drug that can reduce the severity and time to clear infection would be an important tool for our health professionals.
“In this case, New Zealand has the expertise to understand the chemistry and quality systems required for the sourcing of anti-virals for human use, and with the financial support from MBIE, we are swinging into action. Our task is to have an action plan ready to be implemented should we have a second wave of COVID-19 infections and we can’t access the drugs we need in a timely fashion.”