CSIRO charts our preparedness for the next pandemic

20 ways that could help Australia in the future.

Image credit: csiro.au
Media Release by CSIRO

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has outlined how Australia can improve its resilience to future pandemics, reduce their economic impact and protect the community.

The Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness report released today, highlights six science and technology areas critical to minimising the impact of pandemics in Australia. It also makes 20 recommendations that could reduce impacts while improving economic, social and health outcomes.

The report demonstrates how a more efficient and technology-enabled health system could act as an infectious disease early warning system, allow new treatments to be developed and deployed quickly, let patients be diagnosed and treated sooner, ensure the security of our vaccine supply, and better inform decision-making.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said preparing and protecting the nation from pandemics would take a Team Australia approach.

“Australia played a critical role in the global response to COVID-19 to contain outbreaks and find a vaccine, including detection, safety, data tracking, vaccine manufacture and testing, virus analysis, and predictive data analytics,” Dr Marshall said.

“As infectious disease continues to grow in frequency and impact, science can prepare us for what’s ahead as well as drive our recovery and resilience to protect our people and secure our future prosperity.

“CSIRO is committed to Australia’s future protection and resilience. Our high containment lab in Geelong – the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness – works to understand some of the most infectious and harmful diseases. CSIRO is developing a major new research mission to address Infectious Disease Resilience, and with our partners in universities, industry, and government, we are forecasting what we can expect from future pandemics,” he said.

The six key science and technology areas identified are:

  1. Preclinical capabilities for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics enabling faster development
  2. Onshore vaccine manufacturing across a diverse range of vaccine technologies, ensuring vaccine supply
  3. Therapeutics repurposing and novel antivirals
  4. Point of care diagnostics for case identification
  5. Genomic analysis of pathogens and their variants
  6. Data sharing for informing response strategies

Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness also suggests focusing research on five virus families likely to cause future pandemics: Coronaviridae (e.g., COVID), Flaviviridae (e.g., Dengue), Orthomyxoviridae (e.g., Influenza), Paramyxoviridae (e.g., Nipah) and Togaviridae (e.g., Chikungunya fever).

The report is based on consultations with 146 experts from 66 organisations across government, industry, and the research sector.

Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness says that science and technology can complement effective, short-term strategies such as lockdowns, border closures and quarantine approaches while mitigating their significant social, health and economic costs.

COVID-19 has shown how enormously disruptive and costly infectious diseases can be. The pandemic has led to the deaths of over 13,500 Australians as of this month and cost the nation’s GDP an estimated $144 billion dollars between December 2019 and March 2022.

“The ability of infectious diseases to spread into pandemics depends on society’s response”, said Dr Michelle Baker, from CSIRO’s developing Infectious Disease Resilience Mission. “The science and technologies highlighted in Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness point to innovative ways to improve Australia’s resilience.”

“As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO is focused on partnering with government, industry and the research sector to protect Australia and ensure we are prepared for future pandemics,” she said.

Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness was created by CSIRO’s developing Infectious Disease Resilience Mission and CSIRO Futures.