By Professor Philip O’Connell, Executive Director, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research
Recent weeks have seen new cases of COVID-19 steadily drop across most of Australia, and reports of promising COVID-19 vaccine trials are being cautiously welcomed. While 2020 has been a challenging year for so many, both personally and professionally, it seems that the early, decisive and committed approach taken across Australia to stop the spread of COVID-19 has proven successful.
However, we now watch as a very different situation continues to unfold in the United States and parts of Europe, and this should act as a warning. We cannot be complacent. A vaccine is still some way off, and continued vigilance is vital.
Australia’s success to date is primarily due to its world-leading contact tracing capabilities and its public health response. I am proud to say that The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) has been at the forefront of Australia’s COVID-19 research efforts, and continues to play significant leadership roles in these areas.
WIMR is a multi-disciplinary institute, and is home to some of Australia’s brightest, and most talented researchers. This expertise and commitment means that WIMR has been able to pivot quickly, and take a leadership role in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact tracing remains a strong defence against COVID-19, and was especially vital in the first weeks and months of this pandemic. Very early on, a team at WIMR adapted its existing, unique genome sequencing method to specifically target COVID-19. They worked with the public health service to analyse and trace the origins of the first wave of cases and how they evolve over time and from site to site. I am proud to say that this sequencing method is now being used across Australia and the world.
Another WIMR research team who, before the pandemic, were focused on infectious diseases like influenza and sepsis, are now using their experience to develop a COVID-19 blood test. This test would rapidly identify which COVID-19 patients would need to be admitted to hospital for urgent medical treatment, rather than being able to self-isolate or quarantine at home.
A team of globally recognised virologists are using expertise gained in areas such as HIV and shingles to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Their focus is to develop a vaccine specifically targeted to some of the most vulnerable members of our community – the ageing.
WIMR has initiated a series of events, aimed at business leaders, to provide the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 from reputable and informed sources. The WIMR Director’s Series will feature WIMR’s researchers, as well as respected business leaders, discussing COVID-19. They will unpack the facts and offer insights into the current and potential future impact of this pandemic.
To register your interest in attending one of the WIMR Director’s Series events, please contact Katrina Dowling, CEO of the WIMR Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Amanda Thompson, Strategic Partnerships Manager at email@example.com; or phone 02 8627 3000.