Snow Medical has announced a $5.5m gift to the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne to plug coronavirus research gaps and fast-track economic recovery.
The Snow Medical Research Foundation (Snow Medical) is providing $5.5 million in funding for priority COVID-19 research projects that target the critical answers we need as a nation to return to work quickly and safely and to rebuild our economy.
The research will be led by a national collaborative consortium of Australia’s two NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence focused on emerging infectious diseases and pandemic response: the Sydney-based Centre of Research Excellence in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID) and Melbourne-based Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE).
The University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence thanked the Snow family for their substantial donation, acknowledging its potential impact.
“In looking to support coronavirus research as a matter of urgency, the Snow family approached us to channel coronavirus funding to key projects across the country to help plug funding gaps.
“This generous donation from Terry and his son Tom, and their families, means we will have the resources to focus on areas we have not yet been able to interrogate, helping us respond to the coronavirus faster and more effectively. The donation speaks volumes about their ongoing commitment to medical research and will have a significant impact on our response to this global crisis.”
Funding will be directed into four key projects: digital health clinical trials; tracking the spread of infection in the community and amongst vulnerable groups; a biobank of samples from people who have tested positive to COVID-19 to enable researchers to investigate key gaps in our knowledge about the infectiousness of patients with, and immunity to, COVID-19; and blood genetic markers of the coronavirus to measure severity and predict the risk of becoming seriously ill.
Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to build a secure, national electronic data analytics platform. This will help our health system to provide faster, more individualised care for COVID-19 patients, and will develop advances in an innovative clinical trials system to accelerate the testing of new therapeutics developed in Australian research institutions.
This will provide greater detail about COVID-19 infection within the Australian community. It will help us better understand infection spread in our most vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those with compromised immune systems or multiple chronic diseases, health care workers, close contacts of patients with COVID-19 and patients who feel well. Importantly, this project will develop systems that will strengthen our national capability to respond to future emerging infectious diseases.
The biobank will be comprised of highly characterised samples from symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 positive individuals. The biobank and detailed sample information will be a national asset that can be used by researchers to investigate protective immunity, genetic changes in the COVID-19 virus, infectivity and to develop new antiviral treatments and vaccines. Initially it will help provide a detailed understanding of infection dynamics in Australia – when patients become infectious, how infectious they are and how long they remain so. This information is essential to refine the duration of isolation needed to prevent spread from patients to their contacts.
The blood and genetic markers of COVID-19 will accurately measure illness severity and predict the risk of becoming seriously ill. In combination with other patient information, this test will help medical staff rapidly determine the appropriate level of care required in hospital or the community. This will facilitate early transfer of those likely to become severely ill into intensive care, increasing their likelihood of recovery.
Snow Medical founder Terry Snow said: “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on Australia and the world – this is the biggest thing to hit the globe since 1945 and it will have a lasting impact for years to come. Government has stepped up – and now is the time for the community to play a role. All these measures are aimed at getting Australians back to work, making treatment more effective and efficient and getting our economy working again.”
Snow Medical chair, Tom Snow, added: “We want to help Australia’s best and brightest to focus their efforts on this huge national and global challenge.
“This consortium is particularly notable because of its national reach and collaborative networks – it draws on research expertise from over 15 universities and medical research institutes, their affiliated public hospitals, state health departments, public health authorities, pathology services and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service – to provide a truly national picture and coordinated approach to beating COVID-19.”
Professor Tania Sorrell who is director of the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity, Infectious Diseases Group head in The Westmead Institute of Medical Research and the lead investigator in CREID said: “This very generous donation will help Australia lead in the fight to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the community, better protect health care workers, and offer the best care to individual patients.
“Critically, the vision of Snow Medical has enabled CREID and APPRISE to leverage the joint power of their national research networks in the fight against COVID-19.”
Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, and chief investigator for APPRISE said: “The large injection of funds supports the development of critical national platforms for the current pandemic while building capacity for future pandemics."
Infectious diseases physician and trials expert at the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, Professor Tom Snelling, who will be leading the data science project, said: “Australia’s brisk and effective response to COVID-19 is the envy of many countries but we can’t afford to become complacent. This donation will give researchers a critical boost in their race to find and implement science-driven solutions for the pandemic.”