The Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapies (CGCPT) launched on 31st August 2022, thanks to a donation of Aus$250 million from Canadian Geoffrey Cumming. The launch was reported in Nature and was described by Professor Sharon Lewin as “a very ambitious effort”. She will lead the centre, which is based at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne. The government has also committed Aus$75 million over 10 years. 

Cumming was “inspired” to donate so generously after recognising the role played by The Doherty Institute during the pandemic. It was the first group outside China to grow SARS-CoV-2 in the lab, and contributed to the global research effort, according to Professor Lewin. She suggests that the budget and long-term investment strategy are unique, with a focus on “basic science, or ‘blue sky’, research”. 30% of the institute’s funding will be shared with international labs researching pandemic drugs.  

Professor Lewin identifies a gap in the therapeutic scene, with most efforts focused on creating “small-molecule drugs that are similar to existing anti-virals”. CGCPT will push beyond this, looking for an “entirely new drug-creation platform”. The ambition is that this will be used to identify treatments for outbreaks of “pathogens with pandemic potential”. One such approach might be a “drug platform that targets nucleic acids, which would need only the genetic sequence of the virus to get started”.  

Looking beyond vaccines 

Dr Bruce Walker of Harvard Medical School stated that “far too little has been invested in therapeutics”.  

“Most other efforts are focused on the development of vaccines, but vaccines are not always the solution”.  

He considers HIV, where there is still no effective vaccine. However, therapeutics have “turned AIDS into a treatable disease”.  

A 20-year plan 

The CGCPT describes its 20-year research programme as “ambitious”. The mission uses a “plug and play approach”, meaning treatment solutions can be “rapidly adapted to a new pathogen” much faster than usual. Comparing therapeutics to vaccines, the group suggest that until now, investment and innovation have “traditionally lagged”.  

“The centre will take advantage of new technologies that can directly target the genetic code of pathogens”.  

This approach will enable us to “target whole families of viruses” rather than individual viruses. Furthermore, it will promote “better biologics”.