Sunday, September 12, 2021

‘Version 2.0’ of UQ COVID-19 vaccine to start clinical trials in 2022

The head of the team developing the University of Queensland COVID-19 vaccine candidate says the “window has closed” on that vaccine joining the global fight against the pandemic, but confirmed they are working on version 2.0.

Speaking at an online scientific symposium on Friday, UQ Professor Paul Young said they were well down the road to developing a new version of their vaccine candidate, using the same molecular clamp technology.

Professor Young told the meeting that after the initial version 1.0 vaccine was abandoned in December 2020 because of cross-reactivity issues with HIV screening tests, he fully expected the international funding body that initially backed the research, to request he and his team move on to other projects.

However, in a Zoom call shortly after announcing to the world that they had failed in their initial push for an Australian-developed COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine’s backers told him to go back and try again.

“When I got on that Zoom meeting, there were 126 people there,” he said.

“Having seen our phase one clinical data, they were unanimous with wanting us to stay focused on COVID. So, we have done that, and we are taking a new COVID vaccine forward.”

The UQ team had initially been backed by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a global partnership launched in 2017 to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics, and then partnered with pharmaceutical company CSL to manufacture the vaccine.

Version 1.0 had performed well in the initial clinical trials, giving well over 90 per cent coverage against the Wuhan strain of the virus, using a molecular “clamp” to hold a protein in a shape that mimicked part of the spike protein seen on the outside of SARS-CoV-2, which caused the body to make antibodies for the virus.

However, the actual clamp molecule used was sourced from the HIV virus because it was very effective and the researchers didn’t have time to look for a better candidate.

Although there was no risk of contracting HIV from the small molecule, it did set off HIV screening tests, something the researchers did not initially think would happen.

Professor Young said they briefly considered pressing forward with the vaccine anyway and using a work-around, but ultimately decided against it because the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines were more advanced in their development.

“What tipped us over in the end was not wanting to cause vaccine hesitancy,” he said.

“And so the right decision was made at that particular time. Whether that was the right decision, given the fullness of time, I don’t know.

“But we’ve turned it around and found a successful alternative, so that we’re very pleased with, and we will progress with that.”

Professor Young said they had developed around 20 new versions of the vaccine, using a different molecule for the “clamp” used to hold the spike protein together.

He said they would be entering clinical trials in 2022, with work being done on animal models in the near future.

“Not surprisingly, we’re looking at a number of different variants including Delta, and the new clamp is working well,” he said.

Professor Young said he had been heartened by the massive outpouring of public support for the UQ vaccine project, both from the project’s commercial partner CSL, and the Queensland and federal governments, not to mention many private philanthropic investors.

He said some gave more than others, but all gave what they could.

“My favourite memory is receiving a letter from a boy in Melbourne who sent us 70 cents, which is all he had in his share jar,” he said.

“It was that level of community support; it buoyed us, it was absolutely extraordinary.”

The online conference was organised by Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, and run by the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine, with the theme “Making sense of COVID-19”.


‘Their views will not be muzzled’: News Corp’s local boss outlines climate campaign

News Corp Australia’s executive chairman Michael Miller has told local staff the company’s commentators such as Andrew Bolt and Rowan Dean will not be “muzzled” as part of a company-wide editorial project focused on climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

In an all staff email obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Mr Miller confirmed plans for a company-wide climate change campaign in October, but said the push was not conceived due to pressure from advertisers and that different viewpoints will be featured in it.

“Our plans are not in response to any advertiser questions or concerns,” he said. “However, since the coverage this week, it has been great to be contacted by our clients and major Australian companies who are interested in how they can be involved.”

“All our commentators and columnists will be encouraged to participate, and their views will not be ‘muzzled’” .

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age this week revealed plans for the Rupert Murdoch-controlled media company to begin advocating for reducing emissions, marking a major shift in its long-standing editorial hostility towards carbon reduction policies. The article said a plan was devised to limit – but not muzzle – dissenting voices among News Corp’s stable of conservative commentators.

The article sparked a furious response from Bolt, who said on his television program midweek he would leave the organisation if the plan was true.

“So we are going to champion a useless gesture by Australia that won’t lower the temperature but will cost jobs and money - when we are already in the schtuck?,” he said this week.

“A pretend fix, to a pretend crisis, after we campaigned against the carbon tax? Okay. But it’s the boss’ paper, it’s their right to campaign even for something stupid and seem like fools for once fighting against what we are now fighting for,” Bolt told his Sky News viewers. “If that is what the Murdoch media will ask of me, I am out of here.”

“If I’m still here, you’ll know it was all untrue. If I’m gone, worry,” he said.

News Corp’s campaign is set to feature in city tabloids including Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald Sun, national broadsheet The Australian and on Sky News.

Mr Miller said the “major editorial project” was first discussed in March at a meeting of News Corp’s editorial board, which is chaired by The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Dore. He said the work will focus on key environmental and climate issues and the options Australia need to consider reaching a zero emissions target. It will feature leaders in the field and perspectives from lawmakers, scientists, academics and business leaders.

“Australians have told us that caring for the environment is a priority,” Mr Miller wrote. “They have told us that they are interested in the issues, the political and personal choices, as well as the costs and trade offs involved. They also want to know more about how their choices can help make the planet a better, greener place.“

“We will endeavour to ensure that all views, not just the popular ones, are heard,” he said.

Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire has in recent years faced growing international condemnation and pressure over its editorial stance on climate change, which has previously cast doubt over the science behind global warming.

Negative publicity about its coverage appeared in global outlets such as The New York Times and Financial Times during Australia’s deadly bushfires almost two years ago. The coverage by local tabloids and national masthead The Australian also triggered a comment from Murdoch’s youngest son, James Murdoch, who publicly denounced the outlets’ “ongoing denial” of climate change. Mr Murdoch quit the News Corp board last August due to concerns about its editorial stance.

Climate change scepticism has proven difficult to uphold as leading corporations start to aggressively push their green credentials. Woolworths and Coles used the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to broadcast advertisements that focused on their green credentials. But Mr Miller said to staff that the reason for the editorial work was due to the changing needs of its audience, rather than any requests from advertisers.

Mr Miller said News Corp will also reinvigorate 1 Degree - an initiative which began in Australia in 2007 following a famous speech by Rupert Murdoch where he said the planet deserved “the benefit of the doubt”.

News Corporation’s global environmental targets include reducing its fuel and electricity emissions 60 per cent by 2030 on a 2016 base year, reduced supply chain carbon emissions 20 per cent by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050.

”No doubt other media and social platform users will try to take issue with our coverage and attempt to make News the story, however we have never been afraid of pushing boundaries and facilitating tough and uncomfortable conversations,” Mr Miller said. “This is a conversation which Australia needs to have.“


Self-appointed guardians of acceptability are quick to press cancel on new human rights chief

Even before commencing in the role, the new human rights commissioner has contributed significantly to the human rights discussion in Australia. The appointment of Lorraine Finlay has horrified sections of the activist commentariat. From Crikey to ABC radio, Finlay’s supposed sins were listed and repeated: she has spoken against affirmative consent, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. She has even criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission itself. With a finger firmly on the “cancel” button, the self-appointed arbiters of acceptable culture have sought to end Finlay’s tenure before it begins.

While fulminating over Finlay’s appointment, they omitted what she had actually said on each of these topics. So here I lay out, in her own words, the unacceptable and regressive views of Lorraine Finlay, a law lecturer at Murdoch University, who has worked as a senior human trafficking specialist with the Australian Mission to Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Judge for yourself whether they are incompatible with upholding human rights.

Referring to NSW’s move to enshrine affirmative consent in sexual assault laws, Finlay said that “affirmative consent standards make for a great moral code, but a bad legal standard”. She explained that a “yes-means-yes” standard “means that an individual accused is now required to show that at every step along the way they actually got or were able to prove there was enthusiastic consent to what they were doing”. So, she concluded, “the biggest concern with this is the due process issue”.

Proving sexual consent and rape will remain a fraught issue, regardless whether we operate under a “no-means-no” or a “yes-means-yes” framework. The fact is, there are almost never witnesses who can confirm that consent was explicitly obtained. The idea of an app to keep a record of consent was rubbished because, as consent education advocate Chanel Contos said, perpetrators could point to it as evidence, even if consent was later withdrawn. “Consent can be taken back at any time, and an app couldn’t account for that,” she told the media.

So “yes means yes” relies on the idea that consent can be withdrawn at any time, turning a sexual encounter into rape, without an outward signal from the victim if the victim freezes. And the burden of proof required to convict someone of the heinous crime of rape, punishable by many years of jail, falls on the accused, who is guilty until proven innocent. Finlay’s contention is that this is wrong and the standard of innocent until proven guilty must apply.

The objections Finlay has expressed to Section 18C, which makes it unlawful to offend, humiliate or intimidate based on race, are practical. In a 2016 article for The Conversation she and her co-authors referred to the case of a group of students at Queensland University of Technology, who were thrown out of an unsigned computer room reserved for Indigenous students and posted about it on Facebook. “Just got kicked out of the unsigned Indigenous computer room. QUT stopping segregation with segregation … ?” one student wrote. Cindy Prior, the Indigenous woman who ejected the students from the space and later brought the suit, also alleges that one student used a racial slur on the Facebook thread that he later deleted. That allegation was unable to be proven and was categorically denied at the time.

Finlay argued that in the application of 18C, “the process itself is the punishment” because defending it causes “significant costs in time, money and stress”. One of the students involved abandoned his ambition of becoming a teacher “because parents or students may Google his name and find he was accused of racism”.

Section 18C was also the context of another of Finlay’s crimes: criticism of the AHRC. She and her co-authors wrote that, “the AHRC’s conduct in [the QUT] case has been disgraceful. Judge Jarrett’s dismissal of this case raises the question of why the AHRC did not initially reject Prior’s complaints against the students. That the AHRC proceeded to conciliation may have given Prior false hope that her case against them had merit.” Prior was bankrupted by her unsuccessful attempt to sue the students. She was also subjected to vile racial abuse as a result of the exposure the trial received – much of it from overseas, outside the jurisdiction of Australian law.

Finlay’s documented objection to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament is that “we don’t want to be dividing our country on the basis of race”. Her views are recorded in a video made along with Indigenous opponents of the Voice who agree.

It is obviously possible to argue against any or all of Finlay’s positions, but that is not what the activists who seek to “cancel” her are doing. They skate over the detail and context of her arguments and instead seek to create a situation in which only people with views that conform to their own are eligible to participate in public life. It sounds better to accuse Finlay of objecting to affirmative consent, protections against race hate and inclusion than it does to say that she is against the abolition of due process, trial by media, and segregation. The latter are all reasonable arguments in complicated matters. This is cancel culture in action: an attempt to win difficult debates by playing the woman instead of the ball.


NSW Jewish community granted exemption to mark new year celebrations

Jews will be able to perform a sacred ritual of the Jewish new year festival after the NSW Health Minister granted believers an exemption to the state’s public health orders.

Brad Hazzard has given permission for rabbis to blow the shofar – a ram's horn – outdoors during the Rosh Hashanah celebrations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of humanity and usually involves synagogue services, prayer and food. A key element is the blowing of the shofar, which is a Jewish call for repentance.

Rabbi Paul Lewin from the North Shore Synagogue in Lindfield said the festivities would look different to usual due to the lockdown restrictions on gatherings and movement.

“It’s a real family affair to go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. It will be really missed this year,” he said. “There’s joy for the festival but certainly a pang of sadness we can’t celebrate it in its full glory.”

Orthodox Jews face extra challenges to celebrate remotely because of their strict adherence to Sabbath conditions that includes no technology.

“From sundown, all our mobile phones are off, computers are off, the TV is off,” Rabbi Lewin said. “One of the biggest problems we have is we can’t livestream services. My synagogue is going to have a Zoom an hour before the start of Rosh Hashanah, so we all bring in the holiday together.”

Many synagogues in Sydney have also organised take-home packs for congregants consisting of honey, apples and booklets of sermons.

The celebrations last for two days – from sunset on Monday until sunset on Wednesday and one of the key rituals is the sounding of the shofar.

Only a rabbi can blow the horn, so it’s the only ritual that believers can’t perform at home on their own. The exemption will allow rabbis to sound the shofar on Tuesday and Wednesday at parks across the state.

Rabbi Benjamin Elton from the Great Synagogue in Sydney’s CBD said the exemption was a “great relief”. He will be blowing the shofar at Hyde Park in the mornings and Rushcutters Bay in the afternoons.

“We expect people will naturally distribute themselves across all the [time] slots, so it won’t be too crowded on any one occasion,” he said.

The conditions of the health exemption are that rabbis can blow the horn only in 10-minute increments for up to three hours each day. Under Jewish tradition, there is no requirement for followers to hear the horn at a particular decibel level or length of time, so they can simply walk through the park as part of their daily exercise.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said he was grateful the horn-sounding ritual could proceed.

“The community appreciates the co-operation of NSW Health and its work with the community to have very strict conditions that allow this to occur with negligible risk,” he said.

"With synagogues closed, limits on gatherings and restrictions on travel, this year’s Jewish High Holy Days will look unlike anything we have seen before. Many families will be unable to celebrate together as they have for generations. But we are together in spirit, even if physically apart."


Australian mother develops Covid-killing disinfectant in just two months to protect her vulnerable husband from the virus

A mum-of-four has revealed how she and her husband came up with Australia's first TGA approved 'Covid-killing' disinfectant in just two months.

Sophie Westlake, 45, was terrified for her family, and in particular her immuno-compromised husband Steve, 53, when Covid-19 swept across the globe in 2020.

Steve has Myasthenia Gravis a condition similar to MS, and had several lymph nodes in his chest removed as a young man which left him with a compromised immune system for life.

Sophie wanted to keep the people she loved safe but couldn't find a disinfectant which was proven to kill the virus on surfaces.

And when she phoned large cleaning-product manufacturers she was disheartened by their lack of enthusiasm to make a Covid-killing disinfected.

So, with the help of her husband who has a medical background and their four children, Sophie created Virosol - and took it to the TGA for approval.

'This all came about at the start of the first lockdown, when we had no idea what we were dealing with, there was just no information about Covid so everyone was scared,' she told FEMAIL.

'We didn't have much else to do apart from baking and craft activities, being in lockdown, so we just spent heaps of time researching.

'As a family we are very proud to have been the first cab off the rank for TGA approval.'

Once the first products hit the shelves, Sophie received calls from the large companies asking how she managed to get her disinfectant over the line so quickly.

'The big companies all wanted to know how we got TGA approval in two months when it can sometimes take years,' she said.

'I don't really know how to answer that but I guess it's because I was just being really annoying and calling them every second day to get it pushed through,' she said.


An antibody cocktail that can beat Delta to be tested

Australian researchers have been given a $5 million grant to carry out human trials of a breakthrough Covid antibody treatment thought to stop the disease progressing.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research scientist Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham’s team has found two potent antibodies proven to fight Delta and other Covid variants in a petri dish.

With the new funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) the team will mix the antibodies into a cocktail and manufacture enough in Australia to be used in a human clinical trial to test whether they are safe to use.

These trials are expected to begin within 12 months.

“Monoclonal antibodies are just lab made versions of antibodies that sort of mimic what our bodies already make to fight infection,” Associate Professor Tham said.

“We know that when you combine two different antibodies against the virus, you can limit viral escape against treatment,” she said.

When used early in the infection they can stop the virus progressing and prevent people going to hospital.

It took the team just nine months to identify the antibodies after receiving a previous MRFF grant.

Australia has already approved for use existing monoclonal antibody treatments produced overseas called Sotrovimab and Remdesivir.

“So ours are more potent than Sotrovimab from GSK. The other thing that’s different about ours is that we use two antibodies, rather than one,” Associate Professor Tham said.

The antibodies also work against the key Covid variants.

“We’ve tested them against the Delta variant, we don’t obviously have Mu yet, but we’ve tested, Alpha, Beat and Delta,” she said.

The treatment will be manufactured entirely in Victorian and Queensland-based production facilities including at the University of Queensland, and at the CSIRO in Clayton Victoria.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said research was a key weapon in the ongoing fight against Covid-19 and central to the Government’s Covid-19 National Health Plan.

“Our plan provides support across primary care, aged care, hospitals and research, and includes funding from the MRFF for a Coronavirus Research Response,” Minister Hunt said.

“We are backing our best and brightest researchers to drive innovation and contribute to global efforts to control the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The considerable expertise of Australia’s world-class health and medical researchers is critical for ensuring preparedness and the safety of all Australians and the global community.”

To date, the Government has invested $96 million from the MRFF in Covid-19 research.

Sotrovimab is being used in Australia to treat of people with mild to moderate Covid-19 who are also at a high risk of being hospitalised.

It is expected that approximately 10 per cent of people with Covid-19 may have some benefit from Sotrovimab.

Remdesivir has been available in Australia since mid-2020 and is used to treat people who have more severe Covid-19


‘I won’t have a bar of it’: Minister slams national curriculum draft over ANZAC Day stance

ANZAC day is when Australians remember their war dead

Education Minister Alan Tudge has slammed the draft of the national curriculum, which suggests students should be encouraged to contest the importance of ANZAC Day, saying he “won’t have a bar of it”.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has attacked proposed changes to the Australian curriculum, slamming the idea that Anzac Day should be “contested”.

Speaking on triple j Hack on Tuesday night, Mr Tudge said he was concerned the draft curriculum painted “an overly negative view of Australia”, taking particular umbrage with the changes to how Anzac Day is referenced.

Under the proposed draft curriculum, Year 9 kids would learn “the commemoration of World War I, including different historical interpretations and contested debates about the nature and significance of the Anzac legend and the war”.

“In relation to what occurred in 1788, the arrivals of the First Fleet, people should learn about that, and they should learn the perspective from Indigenous people at that time as well,” Mr Tudge said.

“However, there’s things that I don’t like, such as the way that Anzac Day is presented, for example.

“Instead of Anzac Day being presented as the most sacred of all days in Australia, where we stop, we reflect, we commemorate the 100,000 people who have died for our freedoms, it’s presented as a contested idea … Anzac Day is not a contested idea, apart from an absolute fringe element in our society.

“The word contested itself is used 19 times throughout the curriculum – it’s asking people to, instead of just accepting these for the things which they are, such as Anzac Day, to really challenge them and to contest them.”

Mr Tudge has been a vocal opponent to the proposed curriculum changes – particularly in Year 7 to 10 history – and has also slammed the curriculum’s failure to mention Captain James Cook.

Other changes to the history curriculum include “contested debates about the colonial and settler societies, such as contested terms, including ‘colonisation’, ‘settlement’ and ‘invasion’.”

The final revisions to the Australian curriculum will be provided to education ministers for consideration and endorsement by the end of this year, with an updated version to be available for 2022.




1 comment:

Paul said...

....after the NSW Health Minister granted believers an exemption to the state’s public health orders....

because, of course.