14 April 2020

The Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, has announced additional funding for research to support the response to COVID-19.

NHMRC will provide $2 million to the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE) to undertake a range of studies to inform the public health and clinical responses to the outbreak. 

The full media release can be found on the Minister for Health’s website

Following earlier international infectious disease emergencies, notably the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, NHMRC recognised the need for national preparedness to undertake critical research during major outbreaks. Because of the work required to establish collaborative links, design research protocols and obtain ethics approvals, valuable time can be lost early in an outbreak if these foundations are not already in place.

In 2015-2016, NHMRC ran a competitive funding call for a Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Infectious Disease Emergency Response Research to be awarded $5 million over five years. The successful applicant team, led by Professor Sharon Lewin, established the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE CRE). 

APPRISE is an Australia-wide network of more than 50 investigators and 13 institutions from every state and territory. As a result of its work since funding commenced in 2016, APPRISE has defined research priorities, built relationships with key Australian public health decision-making bodies, formed partnerships with equivalent international research networks, and undertaken a variety of other activities to establish research preparedness and foster data sharing. From January 2020, APPRISE has been contributing to the national COVID-19 response. For more information on APPRISE.

The competitive funding call to establish this special CRE included a provision for NHMRC to request the CRE to undertake rapid research responding to an infectious disease emergency, with additional funding provided to support that research. The grant guidelines specified that:

In addition to the funding awarded to the successful application for the CRE in Infectious Disease Emergency Response Research, the successful team will need to demonstrate capacity to do additional research on issues identified by the NHMRC, and informed by consultation with Department of Health, jurisdictions, or other relevant parts of the Australian infectious disease emergency response system. Extra funding would be provided for such activities, which would be agreed at the time of any request.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, NHMRC, in consultation with the Australian Government’s Chief Medical Officer, requested the APPRISE CRE to develop a research proposal meeting the following objectives:

  • Epidemiological and/or clinical studies that can commence rapidly and be completed within the first 12-18 months of the outbreak in order to generate data that will inform the clinical, public health and/or health system response to the outbreak.
  • Research of special relevance to Australia, including research related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and/or communities and vulnerable people (such as those in aged care), and/or projects where Australia can make a unique contribution. 
  • Value with relevant Commonwealth money, including how the NHMRC funding would add value to research underway and justified budget.  
  • Projects draw on national expertise, including from outside the current APPRISE network.

To avoid duplication with other COVID-19 research, basic science research on the virus and development of vaccines were out scope of this emergency funding.  

An independent expert panel with leading medical, policy and research expertise assessed the research proposal (and budget) and found that it meets the funding objectives.

Examples of the research that will be enabled or enhanced through this emergency funding are sero-surveys of population immunity to the new coronavirus, strengthened participation of Australian intensive care units in the international REMAP-CAP for COVID-19 clinical trial to evaluate multiple interventions in critically ill patients, and studies to understand the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities and people in aged care facilities.