How Australia’s coronavirus vaccine will be made


A KEY ingredient in the University of Queensland's coronavirus vaccine is already in production at a UK medical manufacturing plant.

The Australian made coronavirus vaccine, which could be available in the middle of next year, will use the booster ingredient that has already been included in more than 150 million flu shots worldwide.

Seqirus, a company owned by Australian biotechnology giant CSL, showed News Corp Australia its production line for the MF59 adjuvant in Liverpool, northern England, this week.

The factory makes the booster ingredient that will be central to the COVID-19 vaccine the company is producing in partnership with the University of Queensland.

Crucial stage three trials, which will include 30,000 recruits worldwide, were due to begin by Christmas.

Workers at the Seqirus manufacturing site. Picture: Hollie Adams
Workers at the Seqirus manufacturing site. Picture: Hollie Adams

Dr Russell Basser, Seqirus' senior vice president of research and development, said the UQ vaccine team had opted for a proven adjuvant or booster.

"In the world of adjuvants it's quite new but it's also quite well established - it's got a long track record and we know that it's safe when given with flu and there's over more than 150 million doses of the adjuvant that have been given to people," he said.

"That long standing experience of so many millions of doses is actually very powerful in giving us comfort that at least that part of the equation is safe."

The MF59 adjuvant will be produced at the Liverpool plant - which was in production of its flu vaccination shots during News Corp's visit - and sent to Australia where the University of Queensland vaccine will be made at CSL and Seqirus's Melbourne factories.

The use of Australian factories will significantly speed up the roll out of the vaccine, if it successfully passes trials.

The booster is key to the planned vaccine because it boosts the effectiveness of the jab.

"You need to boost the immune response of the protein and to make it go from something that the body doesn't react to very well to a much more profound immune response that we hope will protect people from infection," Dr Basser said.

Brian Jones, process coordinator, with a bulk of MF59 adjuvant at the Seqirus manufacturing site in Liverpool. Picture: Hollie Adams
Brian Jones, process coordinator, with a bulk of MF59 adjuvant at the Seqirus manufacturing site in Liverpool. Picture: Hollie Adams

Between 20 and 50 micrograms of the adjuvant will be needed for each vaccine, with the adjuvant coming in pillow sized batches of liquid.

It will be added to the recombinant vaccine, which attacks the protein spike of coronavirus and stops it from spreading in the body.

The speed at which it can be approved depends on how many volunteers were exposed to the virus when stage three trials happen, most likely in the United States or Latin America.

"What we're all trying to do is recruit the subjects as quickly as possible and it's a big task - 30,000 people," Dr Basser said.

"We need a certain number of infections in the trial. Worst case scenario we only find out if it works or not after 12 months.

"If it works better than that worst case scenario and we're all planning at somewhere around 50-60 per cent, if it's better than that, we might be able to pick that up within six months."

The Australian Government has ordered 51 million doses of the UQ-CSL vaccine, named V451 as part of a $1.7 billion spend.

That would be enough for two doses per person, with a successful jab likely to require a booster shot.

The University of Queensland research has been backed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), which has sped up its work.

The Australian government has also ordered 33.8 million doses of the Oxford university vaccine candidate.

American company Novovax, which uses a recombinant protein in its coronavirus candidate, had positive results in August from two trials which were conducted in Australia.

The World Health Organisation said this week that it expected a vaccine would be available this year.

The University of Oxford's vaccine candidate remains ahead in the vaccine race, despite remaining on pause in the United States while checks are made on possible side effects.

China and Russia also have candidates, however it was unlikely that western governments would buy them.

Originally published as How Australia's coronavirus vaccine will be made