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Government investment in national COVID-19 vaccine strategy welcomed

26 May 2020

The Government’s investment in a national COVID-19 vaccine programme is the shot in the arm the country needs for its economic future and the health of its people says Director of the Malaghan Institute Professor Graham Le Gros.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods, Health Minister David Clark and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters today announced a $37 million COVID-19 vaccine strategy to enable New Zealand scientists to contribute to global research efforts and explore the potential of vaccine manufacturing capability in New Zealand.

Professor Le Gros says the investment demonstrates the Government is committed to ensuring New Zealand and its Pacific neighbours are positioned to access a vaccine at the earliest opportunity.

“We’re currently working with government to finalise details of our role, along with academic partners and industry collaborators Avalia Immunotherapies and South Pacific Sera, for the development of potential vaccines for New Zealand.”

The University of Otago’s Associate Professor James Ussher says it is fantastic that the Government has committed to the global SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development effort.

“I’m very pleased that New Zealand will be supporting CEPI, GAVI, and local vaccine development and manufacture. I’m confident that the Government’s strategy is the best way for New Zealand to contribute to the global effort and to ensure access to a safe and effective vaccine at the earliest opportunity for the people of New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations.”

Professor Le Gros says the group will be continuing its work investigating different vaccine strategies for New Zealand and will also continue its research into potential vaccines, including a virus inactivated vaccine approach in progress in Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu’s lab at the University of Otago and a recombinant spike protein vaccine being developed out of Dr Davide Comoletti’s lab at Victoria University of Wellington.

“Between us and our partners and collaborators we have well over $100M worth of science infrastructure alongside commercial intellect that can be put to good use towards the Kiwi COVID-19 vaccine effort. We have some of the best scientists in the world. We have the know how and the capability. It’s good to get the backing.”

Professor Le Gros says New Zealand’s vaccine effort required unprecedented and time-critical investment and collaboration and the Institute would be seeking support from the “team of five million” to accelerate the work already underway. 

“We’ve already had a lot of interest from people keen to play their part in securing a vaccine for New Zealand – from wealthy philanthropists to everyday Kiwis wanting to crowdfund for the cause. Alongside government funding and research grants, this support is vital and valued, and will have a real impact.”