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A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


03 Mar 2020

Doherty Institute awarded AU$3.2 million by the Jack Ma Foundation to accelerate a vaccine for COVID-19

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) – a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital – has been awarded AU$3.2 million (US$2.15 million) by the Jack Ma Foundation to expedite the creation of a vaccine against COVID-19.

The funding for the Doherty Institute COVID-19 Vaccine Development Initiative aims to find an effective vaccine against the virus that has spread rapidly around the world infecting 87 137 people and killing 2977 (as at 10am 1 March) since the outbreak was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year.

Scientists from the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at the Doherty Institute were the first to grow COVID-19 in the laboratory outside of China, and the first to share it with public health laboratories nationally and globally at the end of January.

Funding for the Initiative will be directed towards three areas, the first of which is an active vaccine platform, the process of stimulating the body to produce antibodies through administration of a vaccine. The second is a passive vaccine platform, which is the direct transfer of antibodies to a non-immune individual, providing temporary protection; and the third, determining vaccine efficacy, safety and readiness for phase one human trials.

Director of the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, thanked the Jack Ma Foundation for its generous support and said the Institute was mobilised to find a vaccine against COVID-19.

“While the path to creating a vaccine is complex, we have the expertise and infrastructure here at the Doherty Institute to take on this task, and now, thanks to the Jack Ma Foundation, the funding to accelerate this significant project,” she said.

“Together with active surveillance, quarantine and other public health interventions, a vaccine is the most effective means of preventing new infections at scale in a population. If transmission continues as predicted, safe and effective vaccines will be needed to help sustain long-term approaches to disease control and to prevent severe mortality and morbidity over time.”

Established by Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma in 2014, the Jack Ma Foundation has been primarily focused on supporting projects and initiatives to support education, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership and the environment. 

The contribution to the Doherty Institute is part of an overall US$14.4 million (AU$21.9 million) investment the Jack Ma Foundation is making towards research efforts in China and internationally into combatting COVID-19. Last month the Foundation awarded US$2.15 million (AU$3.2 million) to Columbia University to identify potential antiviral drugs and antibodies for use against the virus. 

Jack Ma called on all institutes and scientists globally to collaborate with confidence to defeat the current outbreak.

“The Jack Ma Foundation and I will exhaust our abilities to provide more help to the development and growth of medical science,” said Jack Ma, founder of the Jack Ma Foundation.

Professor Christine Kilpatrick, CEO of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the organisation was incredibly proud of the work of their leading scientists at the Doherty Institute who have been instrumental in progressing treatment and care for COVID-19.

“This important funding will help continue the efforts of our scientists in finding a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19 as part of the global effort to seek solutions to this worldwide health issue,” said Professor Kilpatrick.  

Professor Shitij Kapur, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, commended the Jack Ma Foundation for its leadership by investing in the Doherty Institute.

“The Doherty Institute is a unique partnership between Australia’s leading hospital and university and the broader Melbourne Biomedical Precinct – and that is what allowed it to be one of the first to isolate the COVID-19 virus. We now need to develop the science of vaccines and treatments,” said Professor Kapur.

About the Jack Ma Foundation

Established by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, the Jack Ma Foundation was founded on 15 December 2014 and has been focusing on education, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and the environment. The Foundation aspires to be a reliable, participative, and sustainable philanthropic organisation.  The Jack Ma Foundation has so far supported projects worldwide including the Jack Ma Rural Education Program, the African Entrepreneurs Prize, the Ma & Morley Scholarship Program, and Jordan's Queen Rania Foundation. Additionally, the Foundation has also funded a number of projects in its priority areas.  The Jack Ma Foundation is committed to empowering rural educators, entrepreneurs, rural children, young start-ups, and women to equip them for the future and to help build a happier, healthier, more sustainable and more inclusive society.