Go back

Get ready for Disease X, CSIRO says


The next pandemic will challenge Australia’s research and health sectors, national study finds

To be ready for the next pandemic, Australia needs to strengthen its clinical trials, data infrastructure and preclinical research facilities, a report has said.

The Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness report, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, identifies six areas that need work: preclinical capabilities; vaccine manufacturing; therapeutic repurposing and novel antivirals; point-of-care diagnostics; genomic analysis of pathogens; and data-sharing strategies.

“Strong preclinical capabilities help enable the rapid development of novel medical countermeasures,” the CSIRO report says. The research sector needs to be prepared for “Disease X, a pathogen that is not currently known to pose a threat to human health and wellbeing”.

“Enhancing baseline preclinical activities in Australia can assist with growing surge capacity, including maintaining an adequately trained workforce. Without supplying ongoing demand for these skills, upskilling critical capabilities at the commencement of a pandemic can take up to 18 months.”

The specific recommendations in the report, which was published on 31 August, include expanding research capabilities in animal models for “priority viral families”, better engagement with global research networks and efforts to “strengthen translational science to help bridge the gap between research, industry and the health system”.

A formal list of “priority viral families” could guide research funding from bodies such as the Medical Research Future Fund and the National Health and Medical Research Council, the report suggests.

Strengths and weaknesses

Australia’s pandemic strengths include detection and identification of viruses, discovery of clinical targets and other steps in developing “countermeasures” for viruses, the report says. The country also has high-security labs where research on pathogens can be carried out. 

Translational skills are not strong in Australian health research, it says. It recommends more training of researchers in how to identify the “product development” potential of their work and in how to understand the requirements for “scaling up” their work. 

The report warns that while pandemic viruses are more likely to enter from overseas, there are local risk factors for the emergence of new threats. 

It suggests that implementation of the measures would require federal government leadership, but “many of the recommendations will require strong support and implementation from other levels of government as well as industry and research”. 

Anthea Moisi, Laura Thomas and Greg Williams, who work with CSIRO’s Futures Team, authored the paper. They spoke to around 140 researchers, industry figures and government experts.

Minister’s response

In a statement, industry minister Ed Husic said the government would respond to the report’s recommendations “in due course”. He said the report was “important”. 

“We have already started this work, backing Moderna’s mRNA vaccine production facility in Melbourne. And we are committed to develop this capability further,” Husic said.

“The National Reconstruction Fund will help reinforce our medical supply chains, backed by a A$1.5 billion Medical Manufacturing Fund.”