CSIRO opens ‘missing link’ vaccine lab in Melbourne


With this new facility, along with Moderna’s under-development RNA factory in Victoria, Australia’s vaccine infrastructure has received a major boost.

The new Level 2 biosecurity facility is behind a series of airlocks; workers must dress in full costume to enter. “This place is cleaner than an operating room,” said John Power, group leader of regulated biomanufacturing.

The lab manufactures vaccines based on proteins and viral vectors – the technologies used in jabs from Novavax and AstraZeneca. Vaccines are grown by vast armies of cells housed in huge steel vats called bioreactors.

The cells receive the genetic code for what needs to be produced: a viral protein perhaps, or even a whole antibody. They brew the product in bulk, before it is filtered, purified and filled into bottles.

The genetically modified cells arrive frozen in a tiny vial at Clayton; the team thaws them carefully and then grows them to 200 litres.


The process is like caring for a plant – researchers carefully adjust temperature and oxygen levels to help cells grow as well as possible.

When CSL was manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine, these processes had not been perfected, resulting in the first batch of vaccines falling short of what was expected. The CSIRO lab will specialize in perfecting this process before it moves to full-scale manufacturing.

“If we have another pandemic, we should be in a much better place,” Nilsson said.

The facility is also equipped with machines to fill vaccines into vials, ready for use in clinical humans.


Installations like this exist in Australia but are usually only reserved for large print runs.

“Facilities like this provide an opportunity for co-development, and this very high-quality manufacturing that is needed for clinical trials,” said Professor Trent Munro, one of the University’s COVID vaccine developers. of Queensland and now Program Director for the International Funded Vaccine Rapid Response Pipeline.

“Too often, researchers don’t understand how complicated this early-stage manufacturing is. There’s a temptation to try and find ways to do it super cheap and super fast. We need all three: fast, cheap and high quality.

The establishment can make both vaccines and drug therapies. He is already working on an antibody therapy for a university the researchers declined to name.

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