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On-going COVID-19 protection: the Queensland company that’s helping Novavax determine the optimum booster schedule

Experts agree COVID-19 is here to stay and mass vaccination represents the best way for countries and societies around the world to live with it as safely as possible.

How often and when to provide booster shots is a big question that public health officials and vaccine manufacturers now need to tackle and AusTrials is doing its bit to help find an answer.

The Brisbane based clinical research organisation is working with Novavax to test the safety and immune responses of a combined influenza and COVID-19 booster jab. Both of the protein-based investigational vaccines have demonstrated favourable safety profiles in prior clinical studies.

To that end, it’s recruiting healthy participants 50-70 years of age who’ve had both shots of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at least two months ago, for a vital international research study.

“Having risen to the challenge of developing effective vaccines in 2020, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have begun focusing on what happens longer term – how we’re going to control this virus,” AusTrials Managing Director, Dr. Munro Neville explains.

“People are talking about COVID-19 boosters and vaccines tailored to emerging strains as well as seasonal influenza. This study will help to generate some of the important data needed to determine the optimum schedule for vaccinations and the potential to vaccinate against the two seasonal diseases together.”

It’s the latest in a long line of clinical trials and studies conducted by AusTrials on behalf of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, contract research organisations and academic research institutes, since its inception in 2009.

Acquired by Dr Neville from health care, medical imaging and pathology provider Healius in 2018, AusTrials today employs a team of 20 doctors and registered nurses, who work as investigators and study coordinators on between 10 to 12 projects a year.

“Companies and regulators like to see new medical treatments tested on a broad mix of patients, geographically and ethnically, so trial results are generalisable and not just specific to one population,” Dr Neville says.

“We have a very good health care system here in Australia, so US and European companies want the participation of local doctors and patients; we’re sticklers when it comes to following testing protocols and they perceive that we add value to the mix.”

Helping to progress the development of products for a diverse range of conditions, from asthma and diabetes to early-stage heart disease, is interesting and rewarding, according to Dr Neville.

“Products we’ve worked on 10 years ago are now available in the market,” he says. “Our firm is a small cog but, nevertheless, we’re proud to be a part of the process.”

The pandemic forced AusTrials to postpone its plans to set up shop in Sydney and Melbourne, but expansion will be back on the agenda once borders reopen.

AusTrials is a member of Life Sciences Queensland (LSQ), the peak body that provides pathways for stakeholders to collaborate, build their businesses and develop an internationally competitive life sciences industry in Australia.

LSQ Chief Executive Clare Blain says it’s an important contributor to the state’s bio-medical research sector.

“The fact that AusTrials’ services are repeatedly sought after by a gamut of organisations, many of them major multinationals, is testament to the quality and rigour of the work carried out by Munro and his team,” Blain says.

“They’re part of the reason Queensland enjoys a reputation for excellence in this space.”

If you are interested in more information or submitting an expression of interest for the Influenza-Covid-19 Combination Vaccine Study visit AusTrials current studies page

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Dr. Munro Neville Managing Director