Despite avoiding the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic so far, Perth is playing a role in efforts to combat the disease.
A CLINICAL trials centre in Nedlands is playing a role in the fight against COVID-19, running five of the 200 or so drug trials into the virus worldwide.
A wholly owned subsidiary of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, Linear’s work on a protein subunit vaccine candidate for COVID-19 in healthy adults was recently reported in medical journal The Lancet.
Mr Rogers said phase one trials had produced encouraging results, and the companies behind the potential vaccine were moving through phase three trials with a view to releasing full results mid-year.
“If approved, it could very well be another tool, alongside the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, in our arsenal against COVID-19,” he said.
“It can be stored at room temperature, making it ideal to be shipped widely around the world.”
The vaccine candidate, developed by China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals in partnership with GSK (UK) and Dynavax (US), is supported by more than $US300 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in Norway.
The entirety of Clover’s phase one trials were undertaken at Linear’s clinical trials centre in Nedlands; an example of the truly global nature of the fight against COVID-19.
“It’s just mind-blowing to see the speed at which work work on vaccines has been innovated and accelerated,” Mr Rogers said.
“Linear had a head start on its COVID response, with a strong focus on China for the last three years, so when COVID hit we felt we really needed to play our role to fight the disease.
“We were able to leverage our network in China, talked to Clover, liked their technology and were awarded the contract.”
Starting in 2010 with three staff and a handful of trials involving just five patients, Linear has grown substantially and claims to now generate $25 million per annum and $100 million in cumulative, direct economic activity for Western Australia.
Despite lockdown and other COVID-induced impediments to progress, Linear has surged ahead with its trials, thanks to digital innovations that have allowed work to continue remotely. “Over 80 per cent of the industry shut down during the early stages of the pandemic, but we actually scaled up,” Mr Rogers said.
“From our perspective, we knew we had a role to play, to double down and invest.
“As a result, we experienced record enrolments in trials through the peak of COVID here in Perth, and as well as vaccine trials [we] increased our cancer trials to record levels.
“We’re one of the busiest sites in the region, and now employ 250 staff across medicine, science, data and research.” Linear was a WA success story before COVID-19, tripling in size over the past three years, Mr Rogers said, with COVID-19 helping the organisation consolidate its purpose.
“We worked hard to not allow COVID to take its course and have supported the acquisition of 500,000 N95 masks to health bodies during the peak of COVID-19,” he said.
“There’s a sense of importance in the work that we’re doing, that we can make a real difference. We were set up to serve the state and when we look to invest, we think commercially.
“But we are driven to make impact.”
Expeditious research, approval and delivery of products were key factors in the fight against the virus, given the ease of transmission and emergence of new variants.
“A partnership with Spark at Stanford University has been a huge success,” Mr Rogers said.
“They had a product that held huge promise a nasal spray that could provide protection against COVID – and we talked about the impact that trial could have if it was done quickly.”
Such trials usually take six weeks or more for approval, but in the case of this innovation, it took just seven days.
“The study itself would normally take six months, however, we completed it in just three,” Mr Rogers said.
“The results will be published in a leading medical journal shortly, and they’re currently in negotiations with Brazil and other hard-hit countries to deploy the tech to help front-line workers.”
Mr Rogers believes the spray could work well for quarantine workers here.
As research intensifies in many countries, he said there was a narrow window of opportunity for Linear to capitalise on its momentum.
“We employ a lot of people and give a lot of hope,” Mr Rogers said.
“Thanks to the fact that we have largely escaped the effects of the pandemic, while Europe and the US are still recovering, we have a regional advantage.
“It’s a golden time to employ a rapid response, not just for COVID, which still has some way to play out, but also in new cancer trial research.”
Linear’s past international collaboration has given it a higher profile in the US and China than back home in Australia, but its current work on a COVID-19 vaccine may change that.