CSL announces Centenary Fellowships, COVID-19 trial update

Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

CSL announces Centenary Fellowships, COVID-19 trial update

Two Australian scientists have been awarded CSL Centenary Fellowships, each valued at $1.25 million over five years, to investigate new ways to fight two of the world’s biggest health challenges: cancer and infectious diseases. The Fellowships were presented at the Australian Academy for Health and Medical Research Scientific Meeting 2020, held online on 15 October.

Dr Alisa Glukhova, a structural biologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is investigating a fundamental cell communication system that guides the growth of embryos but, when it goes wrong, can contribute to cancer and other diseases. By determining the structure and shape of a signal receptor in this system, known as the Frizzled protein, she hopes to create a path to new kinds of cancer drugs. We know very little about how Frizzled proteins and cell signalling systems work — a gap in our knowledge that Dr Glukhova hopes to close with the help of her Fellowship.

Professor Si Ming Man, an infectious diseases researcher at The John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, is investigating disease-fighting proteins produced by the immune system and how they might be harnessed to fight infectious diseases. The answers could lead to alternatives to overused and increasingly ineffective antibiotics, providing new ways to combat multidrug-resistant microbes. Prof Man will use his Fellowship to study a particular family of the immune system’s own ‘killer’ proteins known as guanylate-binding proteins.

CSL Chief Scientific Officer Dr Andrew Nash said Dr Glukhova and Professor Man both work in fields of global significance.

“Alisa’s and Si Ming’s work epitomises the ethos of the CSL Centenary Fellowships,” Dr Nash said. “They are each seeking a deeper understanding of key proteins — vital molecules for all living systems — that could transform how we fight infectious diseases and cancer.

“It is this long-term vision that the CSL Fellowships aim to support by providing funding stability for leading mid-career Australian researchers.”

Separately to this, CSL has announced that patients are now being enrolled in the Inpatient Treatment with Anti-Coronavirus Immunoglobulin (ITAC) Phase 3 clinical held by the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, an industry partnership that CSL helped to form. The trial will evaluate the safety, tolerability and efficacy of an investigational anti-coronavirus hyperimmune intravenous immunoglobulin (H-Ig) medicine for treating hospitalised adults at risk for serious complications of COVID-19.

The global multicentre, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial will enrol 500 adult patients at up to 58 sites in the United States, Mexico and 16 other countries on five continents who have been hospitalised for COVID-19 and have had symptoms for 12 days or fewer without life-threatening organ dysfunction or end-organ failure. Patients will receive remdesivir as standard of care, allowing the safety and efficacy of H-Ig to be evaluated when given along with remdesivir treatment. The investigational H-Ig materials for the trial will be provided by CSL Behring and Takeda on behalf of the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance, as well as by two other companies.

“This study will help us understand how CoVIg-19 could potentially become an important therapeutic option,” said Julie Kim, President of Plasma-Derived Therapies Business Unit, Takeda and co-leader of the CoVIg-19 Alliance. “To support our efforts, we encourage all those people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma, which contains vital antibodies that have fought off the disease and could help others do the same.”

“Thanks to the unprecedented collaboration from the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance members, commitment from those who have recovered from the virus and generously chosen to donate their plasma, as well as the strong support from the NIH [US National Institutes of Health], we are hopeful that data from the clinical trial will be available before the end of the year,” said Dr Bill Mezzanotte, Executive Vice President, Head of Research and Development and Chief Medical Officer, CSL Behring and co-leader of the CoVIg-19 Alliance. “If the trial proves successful, this therapy could bring new hope to those suffering serious health consequences from COVID-19.”

Dr Alisa Glukhova image credit: Monash Photography Club. Professor Si Ming Man image credit: Science in Public.

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