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News & Trends - Biotechnology

How prepared are we for the next pandemic?

Health Industry Hub | May 2, 2024 |

Biotech News: The Melbourne biotechnology community came together for a symposium hosted by BioMelbourne and mRNA Victoria, featuring specialists in epidemiology, vaccine development and infectious diseases. The topic of the symposium was Australia’s preparedness for potential pathogenic threats.

Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC moderated the panel, highlighting that our primary goals in managing viral threats should be to sustain low disease incidence and minimise societal upheaval.

Reflecting on the global management of COVID-19, he said our global response to develop a vaccine in such a short period of time should be commended, but “our response fell short when it came to vaccine distribution, which was not done equitably” and was one of the reasons we were still living with the virus today.

Professor Crabb said it was crucial to be better prepared to respond to future pathogenic threats, as was the need to place a stronger focus on equitable distribution of vaccines.

Moderna Senior Vice President of Infectious Diseases, Dr Jacqueline Miller, shared her insights from lived experience in developing Moderna’s vaccine in the early days of the pandemic.

She said mRNA technology allowed a swift and adaptable response to vaccine development, outpacing traditional methods. This approach is instrumental in generating vaccines for newly sequenced pathogens, with AI algorithms aiding in the creation of mRNA sequences that form the vaccine’s formula.

Dr Miller said Moderna’s collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) on significant known threats, such as Zika, Nipah, mPox, novel influenza pandemics and others, ensured a robust foundation for a rapid response if any of these viruses were to emerge as endemic or pandemic threats.

She also emphasised the potential of the mRNA technology platform to tackle imminent challenges posed by climate change, vector-borne diseases, the resurgence of enduring infections, the threat of antimicrobial resistance and novel pathogens with pandemic potential.

Moderna’s strategic preparedness for pandemics involved building manufacturing capability around the world, with new facilities under construction in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, to address the supply chain and capacity issues experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said this expansion, coupled with targeted programs for priority pathogens and its mRNA Access program, embodied the company’s commitment to being better prepared for future pathogenic threats. The mRNA Access program fostered global collaboration by allowing researchers to apply Moderna’s mRNA technology to their investigations of emerging infectious diseases.

The involvement of Australian academic and research institutions, including the University of Queensland, the Burnet Institute and the Doherty Institute, in this initiative underscored the nation’s growing prominence in mRNA research.

University of Melbourne’s Professor Jodie McVernon, Director of Doherty Epidemiology at the Doherty Institute, highlighted the importance of global pathogen surveillance and information sharing for pandemic preparedness. Her team’s work is aligned with regional and global initiatives to improve evidence synthesis and communication to support better decisions across all levels of society, from community to whole-of-government.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic taught us the value of disseminating public health information in ways that resonated with the community. She said ensuring access to clear and culturally sensitive information could help combat misinformation and enhance public health efforts to promote equity.

Professor McVernon said epidemiologists needed to consider the health and societal effects of both infectious diseases and interventions for their control in models of pandemic response. She highlighted the ‘Decision Science’ framework of participatory decision-making, enabling ongoing integration of evidence in evolving situations to update recommendations for effective responses.

The proposed Global Pandemic Accord, which is currently being negotiated by WHO member states, aims to foster a unified approach, harmonising health, research, finance and transportation policies and promoting sharing of information and benefits, to establish a fairer and more effective global response to future pandemics.

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