How Australia is Pivoting: COVID-19 Response

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17 April 2020

Pictured: EpiChem CEO Colin La Galia in the lab holding up his chemistry-grade hand sanitizer in Perth.

The MTPConnect Podcast team is working to bring you insightful stories into how Australian companies and researchers are pivoting their activities to respond to COVID-19.

In our latest podcast episode, we featured WA-based chemical services company EpiChem, who are pivoting their production line to produce World Health Organization (WHO) formulated chemistry-grade hand sanitizer for hospitals and aged care service providers in Western Australia. 

CEO Colin La Galia outlines the ripple effect of the global pandemic on the business and associated industries involved in drug discovery and clinical trials, and how EpiChem is supporting homegrown careers in chemistry to build scientific capability.

“We identified an opportunity to support our team and we asked our chemistry team to go away and develop a formulation for hand sanitizer,” Mr La Galia said.

“Being a chemistry provider, we can source the highest grade products and use the materials which are pharmaceutical grade, and we then looked at the World Health Organization and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) requirements to manufacture some hand sanitizer.

“We decided to develop this for three main reasons: to support our team and make sure they were protected during this time, our team’s families and then to try and donate to and support the healthcare and aged care providers in WA.”

You can listen to the whole story in our interview with Colin La Galia on our podcast out this week; just one discussion in a series of stories about our industry’s response to the COVID-19 challenge.

In early February we spoke to Professor Trent Munro from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and Professor George Lovrecz from CSIRO for the podcast about the search for a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Pictured: Professor Trent Munro from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and Professor George Lovrecz from CSIRO talk to the MTPConnect Podcast team in Melbourne.

Back then, we reported that there were around 40,000 cases around the world and that number has since sky-rocketed to over 2 million (John Hopkins University)1. The Australian Government’s Department of Health has now identified 6,497 confirmed cases in Australia (as at 17 April 2020)2.

Professor Munro told us about his group's world-leading vaccine work and their partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

“The group at UQ came up with the technology called a molecular clamp a few years ago and that was invented by Professor Paul Young, Dr Keith Chappell and Dr Dan Waterson and that technology underpinned an investment from CEPI,” Professor Munro explained.

“We’ve been working with CEPI for about a year to develop a coordinated response and to try and bring this technology forward.

“We’re trying to do something that’s very challenging and as soon as that DNA sequence came out of China, our guys in the lab hit the ground running.”

Since this interview Professor Munro’s team has entered a new phase of testing, announcing some international partnerships to move the vaccine candidate into pre-clinical studies. Listen now to the episode, available on Apple Podcasts.

Our Australian medical researchers are at the forefront working tirelessly to develop a vaccine or a therapeutic to stop the spread of COVID-19 – stay tuned for more stories about Australia’s industry response to this global pandemic.