Researchers at Murdoch University and The University of Western Australia have received a significant funding boost from the WA Department of Health to improve the testing of drugs in treating COVID-19.
Importantly, the funding of more than $860,000 will support early and mid-career researchers in Western Australia to develop a high-throughput platform for screening of drugs to treat COVID-19.
The team consists of a multidisciplinary group of early and mid-career researchers with backgrounds from microbiology (Sam Abraham, Murdoch), virology and veterinary science (Mark O’Dea, Murdoch), chemistry (Gavin Flematti, UWA), biochemistry and molecular biology (Heng Chooi, UWA), synthetic biology (Georg Fritz, UWA), drug discovery (Rebecca Abraham, Murdoch) and genomics and diagnostics (Parwinder Kaur, UWA) coming together to address the pandemics.
Associate Professor in Microbiology at Murdoch University, Dr Sam Abraham said the funding would help in the development of an automated system to test the efficacy of new drugs.
“It will enable the integration of robotics to improve and speed up the study of new molecules or drug targets that could kill new viruses, such as COVID-19, the new strains of COVID-19, or indeed, other wild virus or disease outbreaks,” he said.
“The current system of testing our drug discovery platforms through manual processes, while thorough, is time consuming.
“The funding will enable the development of an automated system to speed up the process of testing the effectiveness of new drug developments.
“New viruses develop regularly, and they have mutations that develop for which previously developed drugs will not be effective.
“We have seen the global impact of a new virus for which there has not been a vaccine, so the ability to quickly study new molecules or drug targets to kill viruses will be crucial to limit or avoid these crises in the future."
“Western Australia is in a unique position to discover new therapeutic molecules from nature as we are in a biodiversity hotspot. There are many plants, fungi and marine organisms that can only be found in WA,” said Dr Heng Chooi, who is the UWA lead investigator.
“Antiviral and anticancer compounds have been previously uncovered from WA’s native plants and marine sponges.”
The infrastructure at UWA and Murdoch will allow the team to work with nanolitre volume of precious compounds and biochemical reagents, and enable ultra-fast screening of new therapeutic molecules.
“The funding will automate and speed up processes that scientists around the world spend so much time currently undertaking,” Dr Abraham said.
“This is a big boost to early and mid-career researchers in WA and allow the team to put their skillsets to good use.”