Over $6 million in NHMRC grants for the GVN Center of Excellence at the AIDRC

18 Nov 2021
Person in hazmat suit outside virology lab
The funding supports a wide range of research into SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogenic viruses. Credit: QIMR

The vital contributions of University of Queensland (UQ) and QIMR Berghofer scientists to the global research effort to combat some of the world’s most deadly viruses, has received a $6 million funding boost through recent NHMRC funding rounds.

The Global Virus Network Center of Excellence (GVN CoE) within the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre (AIDRC) was awarded over $6 million in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) research funding with six Ideas grants and an Emerging Leadership grant to progress research across SARS-CoV-2, mosquito borne viruses and future pandemic responsiveness.

“The award of funding for these projects is an extremely gratifying result and a testament to the internationally renowned virology expertise within the Center, and the extensive collaborative networks that the Centre has forged,” said GVN CoE Director and UQ scientist, Professor Alexander Khromykh.

“It will allow us to capitalise on recently acquired expertise with SARS-CoV-2 and on long-standing expertise with other pathogenic viruses.”

“This expertise is vital, and the awarded funding will ensure that it is maintained and further enhanced.”

AIDRC Director and UQ scientist, Professor Mark Walker was thrilled with the announcement and said the funding would not only facilitate important current projects, but future virology research efforts.

“The funding outcomes really showcase the excellence and scale of the research group across the field of virology,” Professor Walker said.

The Australian Infectious Disease Research Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre linking research groups with expertise in virology, bacteriology, parasitology and clinical research at the University of Queensland and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

Professor Andreas Suhrbier, Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Inflammation Biology Lab and GVN CoE founding co-director, explained five grants were awarded to progress various research projects on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, several of which will use the Biosecurity Laboratory (PC3) facilities at UQ and QIMR Berghofer.

Professor Khromykh received grants for two projects, one focusing on predicting and preparing for the unfolding evolution of SARS-CoV-2, and another one on how the synergy between the flavivirus protein and noncoding RNA defeats the antiviral response.

“The COVID-19 grant will focus on predicting the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants in the vaccinated population,” Professor Khromykh explained.

“It will also focus on identifying viral determinants responsible for the evasion of innate immune response and on developing a universal COVID-19 vaccine.

“The flavivirus grant will dive deep into the mechanisms of how viral noncoding RNA’s facilitate viral evasion of the host antiviral response and determine viral pathogenicity.

“Dissecting these mechanisms on the molecular level is crucial for our understanding how these viruses cause the disease and to inform the development of effective vaccines and antiviral treatments.”

UQ virologist Dr Kirsty Short has received an Investigator Grant from the NHRMC to use her understanding of the immune response in COVID-19 and influenza to investigate a future pandemic response.

“The reality is the world was not prepared for COVID-19, so our aim is start developing broad spectrum diagnostics and drugs that work against multiple viruses,” Dr Short said.

“If we develop these things now, we can stockpile them so that any time there’s a viral outbreak, we have them on hand, ready to deploy.”

Dr Emma Gordon has received a grant to investigate COVID-19 related vascular complications, mechanisms and potential therapies.

Professor Frederic Meunier also received two grants for his projects which focus on targeting neuropilin in SARS-CoV-2 neuronal uptake and transport, and on investigating myristic acid as a key mediator of memory via myristoylation.

In 2020, as part of QIMR Berghofer’s global research response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Suhrbier led a team that repurposed the Institute’s PC3 facilities, supported by generous philanthropic donations from Clive Berghofer and the Brazil Family Foundation. 

The GVN CoE AIDRC funded projects are:

Ideas Grants

Professor Alexander Khromykh (University of Queensland)

  • $999,836: Predicting and preparing for the unfolding evolution of SARS-CoV-2
  • $783,516: How the synergy between flavivirus protein and noncoding RNA defeats antiviral response

Professor Frederic Meunier (University of Queensland)

  • $904,308: Targeting neuropilin in SARS-Cov-2 neuronal uptake and transport
  • $978,361: Investigating myristic acid as key mediator of memory via myristoylation

Dr Emma Gordon (University of Queensland)

  • $717,305 COVID-19-induced vascular complications: mechanisms and potential therapies

Associate Professor David Harrich (QIMR Berghofer)

  • $815,219 Development of a defective interfering RNA based antiviral approach to treat infections by SARS-CoV-2 and emerging variants

Dr Leon Hugo (QIMR Berghofer)

  • $807,376 Mosquito-specific viruses: novel agents to control the transmission of arboviral pathogens         

Investigator Grants

Dr Kirsty Short (University of Queensland)

$1,370,120: Pandemic-proofing our future by developing novel diagnostics and therapies for both severe influenza virus and coronavirus infections

Media: Alexander Khromykh; alexander.khromykh@uq.edu.au, +61 7 334 67219,  science.media@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 4043.