NRL News

NRL Joins Victorian COVID-19 Response

NRL, a division of the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, has joined the Burnet and Doherty Institutes in supporting the Victorian State Government response to COVID-19, focusing on the development of new diagnostic technologies, clinical research and strengthening the public health response.  Funded by Victorian State Government $6 million funding pool, NRL will develop a biorepository of well-characterised samples as well as antibody reference and confirmatory tests to evaluate new diagnostic assays, including rapid point of care tests, as they become available.


Currently, the diagnosis of COVID-19 relies on the detection of the viral nucleic acid.  Diagnostic tests being used have been developed by State public health laboratories and validated on a limited number of patient samples.  COVID-19 viral nucleic acid is transient and only detectable early in the infection.  After infection is cleared, the only way of determining whether a person has been infected is through the detection of antibodies in the patient’s blood. These antibody tests, and the biorepository, will be used to evaluate new diagnostic tests and for the development of candidate COVID-19 vaccines. This will include the point of care test for COVID-19 being developed by collaborator A/Prof David Anderson at the Burnet Institute.

The development of diagnostic tests requires stringent evaluation and validation.  A regulatory framework, managed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is in place. However, there are some reports of issues associated with current testing outside of Australia.  The expertise developed in the fight against HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne infections will be used in the response to COVID-19.  Over the past two decades, NRL has provided Australian laboratories reference and confirmatory testing for HIV and other diseases.  Our expertise in the evaluation and validation of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases is recognised internationally. As a WHO Collaborating Centre NRL is one of only 14 accredited WHO Prequalification Evaluating Laboratories worldwide,

NRL is excited to be involved in this important public health initiative and working closely with our partners, Burnet and Doherty Institutes. A/Prof Rosemary Ffrench, Principal Scientist at NRL, said We are very grateful for the support of the Victorian Government to fast-track diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccine development for COVID-19, which are urgently required to effectively monitor new Coronavirus infections in Australia, and aid in the rapid development of much needed anti-viral treatments and to support research and development of a vaccine.”


A/Prof Rosemary Ffrench

Principal Scientist at NRL