Senate debates

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Statements by Senators

COVID-19: Vaccination

12:15 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I will take that interjection and I will debate you on that any time you like. If you give me another 10 minutes, I'll run through every point of why Victoria could beat South Australia hands down. We are already home to 70 per cent of the global and domestic pharma industry, with companies such as CSL, GSK and Pfizer. This is combined with world-leading research institutes, such as Burnet, Doherty, Walter and Eliza Hall, Florey, and Peter Mac, and two global-top-20 universities, including my alma mater, the University of Melbourne, and the university at which I am currently studying, Monash University. This makes the state well poised to begin this endeavour. In Victoria we have the nation's largest talent pool of researchers and the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing workforce. Specifically, the state already has the greatest concentration of RNA researchers in Australia, working on mRNA vaccines, samRNA and other RNA therapeutics. With such a strong RNA ecosystem and capacity in research, translation and manufacturing of pharmaceutical goods, Victoria is ideally placed to develop the sophisticated supply chain that is required to establish onshore mRNA manufacturing. Due to the fact that we already have this native capacity in Victoria, it simply would not make sense to locate this type of facility anywhere else.

Currently, the wheels are already moving in Victoria for this to happen. Universities, research institutes and industry are already working to accelerate onshore mRNA clinical development and manufacturing. What is truly exciting is that we have a local COVID vaccine candidate that has been developed in Victoria. This candidate, developed by Professor Pouton, will soon undertake phase 1 clinical trials for Australia's first locally developed mRNA COVID vaccine. This candidate has already received $3 million from the Australian government, through the Medical Research Future Fund, to cover the cost of phase 1 trials. However, as I said, a sovereign mRNA capability can't just be about COVID-19, even though that will be its most urgent use. We need this capability to put Australia in the lead in developing other mRNA vaccines and therapeutics. Think of it as building capability in new technologies such as the internet and silicon chips, and look at the industries that they lead to. MRNA is an enabler platform, not just a standalone technology product in itself.

I don't often praise the Victorian government, and for good reason, but I do give credit where credit is due. Five million dollars has recently been given to the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences from the Victorian government's $50 million fund to develop mRNA manufacturing capability in Victoria, and the Victorian government has recently established an agency, mRNA Victoria, with the aim of developing Australia's mRNA capability. While this is a good start, I would encourage the Victorian government to invest further in this endeavour and its associated universities and research institutes and to work with the federal government to establish this capability. Such a project will require deep cooperation of both levels of government and significant government funding. For such a critical pursuit, we must all be willing to work together for the security of our nation.


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