Episode 61 - Viruses and vaccines with Professor Ian Frazer

World renowned immunologist joins Your shout to discuss coronavirus and Queensland’s life-saving vaccine technology.

Listen to Ian's story below: 


A vaccine for coronavirus (COVID-19) has been touted by medical experts as necessary step for life in Australia, and across the globe to return to normal.

However, University of Queensland (UQ) Immunologist Professor Ian Frazer said creating a coronavirus vaccine was  proving difficult for scientists.

UQ is one of more than 100 laboratories across the globe racing to develop a vaccine for coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Queensland is developing a vaccine based on new technology, which is molecular based,” Prof Frazer said.

“It's called molecular clamping and it basically is using genetic engineering to assemble a protein which can copy one bit of the virus.”

Prof. Frazer said while genetic engineering was time consuming, it could have better long-term outcomes. 

“The more conventional techniques are quicker by and large, but the reality that the difficult part of the process is not the technology, it's testing the vaccine, improving it, ensuring it's safe and effective,” he said

 “That is going to be the holdup for vaccines.”

Prof. Frazer said scientist had never successfully crated a coronavirus vaccine.

“Vaccines that have been developed against other nasty coronaviruses in the past have sometimes made the disease worse, not better,” he said.

“Therefore, we really want to be very sure that any vaccine we develop for COVID-19 is not going to make the situation more serious.”

Prof. Frazer is no stranger to vaccine development, having co-developed the lifesaving human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which prevents cervical cancer.

“We didn’t set out to make a vaccine against papillomavirus,” he said.

“We were driven by the fact that HPV was causing 300,000 deaths from cervical cancer every year globally.”

Prof. Frazer said the HPV vaccine paved the way for the technology currently used by UQ in developing a coronavirus vaccine.

“The papillomavirus vaccine that I was involved in developing was probably one of the first that was built using genetic engineering,” he said.

“This gives us a lot more flexibility about what we use in a vaccine, and probably makes it easier to make a safe vaccine.”

More than 80% of Australians will contract a type of human papillomavirus (HPV) at one point in their lives but, thanks to the vaccine, rates of infection

have dropped by more than 70% leading to a decrease in cervical cancer cases worldwide.

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