Vaccine research backed

Ass Prof James Ussher. Photo: ODT Files
Ass Prof James Ussher. Photo: ODT Files
A $37million fund for Covid-19 vaccine development and manufacture is an excellent commitment by the Government to the international fight against the pandemic, a University of Otago immunologist says.

The vaccine strategy would be monitored by government agencies including Medsafe and Pharmac, as well as independent advisers.

Some $10million would go towards research in New Zealand, and a further $5million was set aside for future production.

More than $20million had been earmarked for international research involving New Zealand scientists and to assist organisations which would eventually distribute the vaccine to developing countries.

Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases director James Ussher said a vaccine was a critical part of the fight.

‘‘It’s fantastic to see the Government invest in that ... it’s fantastic they have highlighted local manufacturing, which will be critical for New Zealanders to access any vaccine.’’

Associate Prof Ussher, who is already participating in international vaccine development programmes, said there was no reason New Zealand scientists could not make the breakthrough the world was waiting for.

‘‘There are a lot of vaccine candidates being assessed worldwide, but we have the scientific capacity and the resources in New Zealand that we can contribute to that research,’’ he said.

‘‘I definitely think we can develop a vaccine in New Zealand ... whether we are the first or not, there are a lot of other candidates out there.’’

Even if the breakthrough was made elsewhere, Covid-19 and similar pathogens would be around for years to come and research to combat the current threat would likely be useful in the future, Prof Ussher said.

‘‘We would be very interested in working with the Government on the vaccine strategy, and look forward to seeing what the details of the work are.’’

Meanwhile, the Otago Medical Research Foundation has set up an urgent, accelerated competitive fund specifically for Covid-19 research.

The foundation would grant up to a maximum of $40,000 per Covid-19 research project, extra funding on top of its annual $400,000 budget for wider medical research.

‘‘The OMRF believes that it’s important to support research into this new virus and its impact in New Zealand to we learn all we can from it,’’ foundation development director Susan Sims said.

‘‘The research undertaken will be nationally focused and will contribute to the worldwide understanding of Covid-19.’’

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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