Kirby Institute researchers recognised as Eureka Prize finalists

Scientia Professor Gregory Dore and Professor Raina MacIyntre from the Kirby Institute have been named as finalists for the Australian Museum’s Eureka Prize. Presented annually, 17 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are awarded across four categories including research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.

Professor Gregory Dore has been nominated for the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research. Professor Dore’s research on antiviral therapy for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in people who use drugs is having a major impact on elimination of the disease in Australia.

“Hepatitis C virus is a major global health challenge. Direct-acting antiviral therapy for HCV has been successful, however the group most impacted by the disease, people who use drugs, has been largely excluded from accessing it. This is due to perceived likely poor adherence and risk of HCV reinfection,” he said.

Professor Dore has led several clinical trials of direct-acting antiviral therapy evaluation on people who inject drugs. The key benefit of his research is that it has driven equitable provision of the antiviral to this group of people in Australia, which is crucial for HCV elimination efforts.

Professor Dore’s research findings have been included in major international HCV management guidelines and have driven advocacy to enable people who inject drugs to access the antiviral therapy. His research has impacted the attitudes and practices of many clinicians involved in HCV management, evident through increased antiviral treatment in this group.

“Australia is an international leader in HCV elimination. The evidence of HCV elimination progress for people who inject drugs and the broader Australian HCV population through a community-centred approach is crucial to driving enhanced investment and strategy development for global HCV elimination,” Professor Dore said.

Professor Raina MacIntyre has been nominated together with Associate Professor David Heslop, UNSW Medicine for the Department of Defence Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia. Professor MacIntyre and A/Professor Heslop lead UNSW Biodefense, a research program in health security. They developed a blueprint for pandemic preparedness prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Underpinned by mathematical modelling and published research, this work provides a concrete, actionable blueprint relevant to any respiratory pandemic.

They predicted much of what has occurred with COVID-19, including recognition of a new disease epidemic, diagnostic challenges, health systems surge capacity, mass contact tracing and quarantine, mass case finding and isolation, personal protective equipment and vaccine shortages, health workforce vulnerabilities, national interest in conflict with global pandemic control, infected cruise ships in international waters, travel bans and more.

“The white paper and pandemic response blueprint resulted from an exercise called ‘Exercise Mataika’ that was held at UNSW Sydney and used the hypothetical scenario of a smallpox attack in the Pacific which becomes a pandemic, to examine our local, regional and global preparedness to a respiratory transmissible pathogen,” Professor MacIntyre said.

UNSW Biodefense simulated the duration and magnitude of the pandemic under different scenarios, identified the critical threshold for epidemic control, and scenarios where the World Health Organization vaccine stockpile is inadequate, and a worst-case scenario. The blueprint provides a guide to avoiding a worst-case scenario. The time to commence the response, rates of contact tracing and ring vaccination, and rates of case identification (testing) and isolation are all influential factors in pandemic control.

“We have been able to outline very clear disease control targets in terms of vaccination and isolation of sick people. For national interest, efforts must be directed to the areas that are worst affected. There may be catastrophic consequences of ignoring poor epidemic control outside our borders or withholding resources. We have since modified the model for COVID-19 and the same findings apply, including for future COVID-19 vaccines,” Associate Professor Heslop said.

Date published: 
Tuesday, 29 September 2020
Contact: 
Luci Bamford, Media and Communications Manager
Phone: 
0432 894 029

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