Why world-first super vaccine won’t be in Australia
A BREAKTHROUGH, turbocharged flu vaccine has been developed by Australian scientists - but won't be available to Aussies as it enters clinical trials in the United States.
Instead, it will be released in the US, following a year of clinical trials, after that country's government funded the pivotal research for 15 years.
The breakthrough is believed to be the first human drug in the world to be completely designed through artificial intelligence, and will be more effective than the current jab which in some seasons misfires against certain strains.
So far in 2019, the flu has killed 220 Australians - 38 of them Queenslanders. More than 96,000 cases have been confirmed across the nation.
"Our research is about to go into clinical trial over there. It is very frustrating that we have hit roadblocks with Australian funding and the US sees that we have the research abilities not present in America," Dr Nikolai Petrovsky, a Flinders University professor and research director at Vaxine Pty Ltd, told The Courier-Mail.
As a clinician it's disappointing that Australia would not try to keep such a product here. As a clinician I just want to save lives."
Dr Petrovsky said current flu vaccines did provide some protection but, as his team had demonstrated, more could be done to improve their effectiveness. "Despite currently available vaccines, flu remains a very major global health problem," he said.
Dr Petrovsky developed the technology behind this vaccine using adjuvants - substances which act as a turbocharger to enhance the vaccine's ability to protect against infection. "This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design," he said.
Although computers have been used in the past to help in drug creation, this vaccine technology was independently designed by an AI program called SAM (Search Algorithm for Ligands), created by the Flinders University-based team.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the National Health and Medical Research Council funded clinical trials of any size, up to five years, that address important gaps in knowledge, leading to relevant and implementable findings for the benefit of human health.
"The NHMRC has funded (and will continue to fund) many projects of the highest quality as determined by a rigorous peer review process in all areas of health including influenza vaccine development," the spokesman said.
Flinders University associate professor Dr Dimitar Sajkov said a number of influenza patients seen this year had received the 2019 vaccine, highlighting the need to develop a better flu shot.
"It is tremendous to see such a promising vaccine that we developed with the very first human trials being done at Flinders, progressing onto the world stage," he said.
In 2009, the team at Flinders Universtiy were the first in the world to develop a new swine flu vaccine to combat the 2009 pandemic. The Flinders trials confirmed both the effectiveness and speed with which this new vaccine could be delivered, resulting in many awards including the AMP National Innovation Award at the Telstra Business Awards.
The US clinical trial will take about 12 months to complete and aims to recruit 240 healthy volunteers. The trial is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the US National Institutes of Health.
Dr Petrovsky expressed gratitude to the US government for providing long term funding for research that led to this breakthrough.