Minderoo Foundation, in collaboration with the federal government, today announced the STAT initiative, establishing a more than 3-fold increase in total daily COVID-19 testing capability across the nation. The RT qPCR testing which is specific to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) will be key to eliminating the virus and liberating Australia.
STAT is made possible through Minderoo Foundation’s balance sheet commitment under reimbursement arrangements with the federal government, and now raised to up to $320 million to fight the virus. STAT substantially increases Australia’s capacity to test for the virus. The testing adopts TGA approved high-throughput automated sample preparation and a highly specialised real time ‘polymerase chain reaction’ (PCR) process. This powerful additional capability will enable widespread screening across the population.
At a time when global demand for COVID-19 testing is soaring, a major challenge for labs is access to the reagents which drive the tests. Minderoo Foundation was able to secure vital access to the necessary equipment and critical reagent supplies, and transport COVID-19 testing labs to Australia from China, on 10 chartered flights, the last of which landed on 26 April. This initiative includes almost 10 million COVID-19 tests, of which one third have already arrived in Australia.
Working with leading Australian diagnostic industry partners, including Sonic Healthcare and Healius, the installed labs are being commissioned at 11 sites around Australia to test samples from all states and territories. This has been done in an unprecedented three week time frame, from purchase to operation, drawing on deep international relationships, expertise and experience from across the private sector, in close collaboration with the Premiers and Chief Ministers in each state and territory, and the federal government.
Minderoo Foundation Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO said, “during times of national emergency and crisis, all parts of society must come together for the national interest.
“There are many reasons that increasing testing capacity is so critical. It allows government to isolate the virus instead of the entire population and extinguish its growth instead of our economy,” Mr Forrest said. “Our STAT initiative also protects our courageous healthcare workers on the frontline and makes sure our healthcare systems remain strong and resilient to future challenges. It provides the confidence the government requires to lift restrictions to rapidly expedite getting the country back to work.
“By connecting people from across the commercial, research and healthcare sectors, we’ve been able to accelerate the set-up of these labs, to help pull Australia out of its economic deep freeze.”
Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt said the federal government was working with Minderoo Foundation to ensure the testing operation could be rolled out as smoothly and swiftly as possible.
“As we move to the next stage of our response, escalating our testing to one of, if not the highest levels globally, is the most critical step we can take to protect Australians and avoid further spikes in community transmission.
“We’ve completed just over 500,000 tests to date in Australia. An additional 10 million tests not only secures our supply lines but also allows us to increase our total testing between now and the end of the year almost 20-fold.”
Chairman of BGI Wang Jian said, “Australia and Dr Forrest supported China in our hour of need. We simply committed to do the same, and our goal is that these labs and reagents, which proved effective in controlling the crisis in China, will support Australia to emerge from its outbreak with the confidence this testing capacity brings.
“Based on the strength of the relationship, we were able to protect supply chains for this extremely rare equipment, and have Andrew deliver it straight to Australia. I’ve been calling the ten million tests ‘the Twiggy Tests’ and I hope they will be used to clear Australia of this virus.
“It is my dearest wish that Andrew’s effort, and that of Minderoo Foundation and the Australian government, make Australia the first country to join China’s strong recovery from COVID-19,” Wang Jian said.
Dr Steve Burnell, who heads Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer Initiative and now also directs Minderoo Foundation’s entire COVID-19 response explained that the new STAT lab solutions employ a highly specialised process to rapidly detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) in a patient’s swab sample, using equipment and reagent supplies provided by BGI.
“This capability is being deployed within existing clinical laboratory facilities across Australia, where experienced molecular pathology teams will conduct the testing. The reality is, there will likely be additional waves of this pandemic, and different biologic threats in the future, that may be just as contagious and even more lethal. This testing infrastructure will help protect Australia not just from COVID-19 but will remain a valuable asset protecting Australia from other pandemics well into the future,” Dr Burnell said.
Both Dr Forrest and Dr Burnell expressly thanked Mr Luke Miels, the President of Global Pharmaceuticals at GlaxoSmithKline. Mr Miels, normally based in London but who has fortunately been quarantining in Perth with his West Australian family, drove the STAT initiative with Dr Burnell.
Mr Luke Miels remarked “it is a privilege to have been on the ground in Australia to lend a hand to our country in this incredible capacity. Minderoo Foundation typically threw the reins at me and are a group of outstanding teammates who are committed, like I am, to the best future possible for all Australians.”
Dr Forrest reiterated his personal commitment to the STAT initiative and defeating COVID-19. “We will never ever give up, until all Australians can return to their loved ones and lives. We will not stop until the fear of this virus has been relegated to history.”