Health & Wellbeing

A local solution to a global crisis?


Published Apr 9, 2020

With the world in lockdown against COVID-19, the race is on to find novel anti-viral therapies (to cure) and vaccines (to prevent) this rapidly spreading disease. Rather than wait for overseas laboratories to develop such medicines, Wellington UniVentures is working to bring together some of the extraordinary scientific talent that exists in the capital to develop potential solutions.

“We have really strong capability in developing anti-viral compounds and immunotherapies—and in the development and manufacture of vaccines—right here in Wellington,” says Hamish Findlay, Wellington UniVentures’ General Manager Commercialisation. 

He says that Victoria University of Wellington’s Ferrier Research Institute already has long-established relationships with Wellington-based entities like the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Avalia Immunotherapies and GlycoSyn, whose combined capability could be harnessed to develop and manufacture compounds for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. 

“In terms of the development and synthesis of anti-viral compounds, the Ferrier Research Institute has deep experience in the application of synthetic carbohydrate and medicinal chemistry for drug discovery and development,” says Hamish. “They have the track record and the expertise to deliver a number of compounds that may be effective against COVID-19.”

He says that when it comes to immunology and vaccine development, the Ferrier Research Institute and the Malaghan Institute’s respective chemistry and immunology teams have already been collaborating for over 10 years to discover vaccine candidates which treat or prevent diseases by targeting the immune system—which could potentially include COVID-19.  The Ferrier team also has a close working relationship with Avalia Immunotherapies, a Wellington UniVentures biotechnology spin-out with proven expertise in the development and manufacture of synthetic vaccines.

“Avalia has developed a vaccine platform that generates a powerful immune response to prevent influenza infection,” says Hamish. “Preclinical studies are producing promising results, so it’s entirely possible that this vaccine could be adapted to fight COVID-19.”

Hamish says that additional manufacturing capability for other promising compounds could also be handled in Wellington. “The Ferrier Research Institute, Wellington UniVentures and Callaghan Innovation are partners with GlycoSynworld leaders in the development and manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients for pre-clinical and clinical trials—who are based right here in the Hutt Valley.” 

He says that because New Zealand is an isolated island nation, Kiwis have developed a tradition of ingenuity and problem-solving that he believes is wholeheartedly embraced by the scientific community. “We’ve got the will and the essential capability to minimise the risk of COVID-19 right here in New Zealand; all we need is the opportunity.”

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Janice Cheng

Head of Health & Wellbeing

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