23 March 2020
I write at a time of uncertainty, anxiety, but above all, solidarity. COVID-19 is a salient reminder of how vulnerable our global society is to infectious disease. In recent decades we have all been privileged to live in a largely vaccine-protected world. This pandemic shows us just how dynamic and destructive a new infectious agent can be to humankind and how vital health research is globally.
We can’t know enough about infectious diseases. We need to understand how to best respond and we need to have the tools for combat and prevention – and not just for known enemies. The Malaghan Institute will be doing all it can in the areas most relevant to our shared future. We’ll continue to investigate how we can stimulate the immune system to be protective and identify which parts of the immune system need to be regulated so they don’t cause overwhelming pathology and make a person sicker. We have strong, exciting and potentially breakthrough programmes that may give us new tools to make better vaccines against infectious disease. These come out of Professor Ian Hermans’s work with Avalia Immunotherapies, and Professor Franca Ronchese’s fundamental immunology programme investigating how the immune system can distinguish between different types of infectious disease.
I want to reassure everyone that the Institute is not standing still right now. We are progressing several avenues and have resources ready where we need, whether it’s diagnosis or production of a vaccine, or discovery of a vaccine to lend our shoulders to the world. Dr Robert Weinkove has also been involved in developing guidance for management of haematology and oncology patients in Australasia during COVID-19. And we have a comprehensive pandemic response plan in place, aimed at preserving our staff health and wellbeing and the operation of the Institute through a range of situations. We will keep you updated of developments as relevant.
I made a point very clearly in a recent media interview: "it’s just a bloody virus." It sounds crude but there’s nothing supernatural about it. It is killable. HIV AIDS was probably one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced scientifically and we’ve found ways to manage and treat it. We’ll find a way to deal with this virus too. It’s actually a credit that it’s only taken a matter of weeks to learn an awful lot about this virus – where it’s come from, what it’s doing, its weak and strong points – and get viable and effective approaches to building a vaccine underway.
For now, and until an effective vaccine is found, the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our communities is to follow health guidelines around handwashing, hygiene and social distancing. And not panic.
Thank you to all our supporters. Never has there been a more important time for us to understand the interplay between infectious diseases and our immune system. All our scientists and support staff are highly motivated to contribute to this critical effort.