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31 May 2021

Victorian Government funds new COVID-19 biobank

A biobank will be established at the Doherty Institute thanks to $5 million from the Victorian Government which will enable scientists to better understand the immune response and long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines.

A biobank is an organised collection of biological samples for research use that can enable important disease insights to be made more quickly and easily than an ad-hoc approach to specimen collection.

The Victorian COVID-19 Vaccinees Collection – or VC2 will collect samples from participants both before and after they are vaccinated.

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, said the creation of a vaccine biobank is vital to centralising and co-ordinating Victorian coronavirus research knowledge and resources.

“To understand vaccine responses in detail, researchers need access to carefully prepared cell and plasma/serum samples from a variety of people before and after vaccination,” Professor Lewin said. 

“Usually researchers set up their own small collections of around 50 to 100 people. An initiative like VC2 will give all Victorian researchers access to a large number of well curated samples with all the clinical data they need.

“It will be a powerful resource enabling many more investigations to take place and we are a very thankful that the Victorian Government saw the benefit in it.”

Victorian Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy Jaala Pulford said the funding would allow Victoria’s extraordinary medical research institutes to continue their incredible work.

“This new biobank will be a key part of the vaccine roll-out, allowing researchers to monitor the effects of vaccines and prepare for any new strains we might have to confront.”

Through a co-ordinated strategy involving Austin Health, Monash Health, and Western Health vaccination hubs, plus The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Royal Children’s Hospital, The Alfred hospital and Emeritus Research, the VC2 will approach diverse Victorians to donate samples both before and for up to two years after they are vaccinated.

Understanding the long-term impacts of COVID-19 vaccination will be important across groups of people who may respond differently to the vaccines, including Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions

It is particularly important to understand the long-term durability of vaccine responses in a low-COVID-19 setting such as Victoria and as new variants emerge.

Up to 1,500 participants are needed and Professor Lewin encouraged people to consider donating their samples.

“We’re now calling on Victorians to play their part in helping us understand the long-term effects of vaccines,” Professor Lewin said.

VC2 will be led by the Doherty Institute, but supported by a Scientific Review Committee with representatives from a wide range of Victorian research institutions including the eight recruiting sites plus Monash University, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and RMIT.

In the long term, the collection will become a flagship for national biobanking by coming under the custodianship of the Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research in Infectious Disease Emergencies (APPRISE), which is working with researchers around Australia to develop collaborative approaches to biobanking.