UQ infectious disease researcher Daniel Watterson is one of two recipients of a $ 1.25 million annual research grant that he plans to use for new research to prevent future pandemics.
Professor Watterson was part of the team at UQ that developed the university’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate using molecular clamping technology.
He has now received an annual CSL Centenary Fellowship to continue his work on antiviral drugs, which may stop the next pandemic before it begins.
Professor Watterson said he was honored to be awarded the scholarship and would use it to continue his research into drugs that use powerful immune cells called IGMs.
“They are the first antibody the body produces when it encounters a new infection, and they tend to be really effective at neutralizing viruses,” he said.
“They have not been made before by pharmaceutical companies because they have been challenging to reproduce in the laboratory.”
Professor Watterson said that UQ researchers had found a solution in the form of the relatively new mRNA technology, which delivers DNA instructions to the body’s own cells, which then make the immune cells themselves.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA technology, while the UQ vaccine candidate, which is currently being transformed into a new version, uses a molecular clamp to shape proteins into a shape that mimics them on the surface of a viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which elicit an antibody response.
Professor Watterson said that while vaccines were the best way to fight viruses, it could have stopped COVID-19 in its tracks from having antiviral drugs with a rapid response and possibly being able to make it to the next pandemic.