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Gold Coast becomes clinical trial hub


Clinical trials are booming on the Gold Coast in the wake of the pandemic, but it’s not all in pursuit of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Queensland’s low COVID-risk status is accelerating national and international pharma testing locally, including world-first trials of a new meningococcal vaccine.

Griffith University Clinical Trial Unit director Professor Evelin Tiralongo said the pandemic had increased demand for more Queensland-based clinical trials for other diseases while the world raced to find a COVID cure.

With the Gold Coast’s tourism-based economy shattered by the pandemic, the clinical trial and medical research sector has emerged, alongside film production, construction and sports events, as blockbuster economic drivers for the city.

Tiralongo said the Gold Coast was Australia’s largest regional clinical trial location, with 126 trials contributing almost $12 million per annum to the city’s economy since 2019.

However, largely as a result of the pandemic, the sector was expected to now far outstrip projections that it would triple in value to more than $33 million a year by 2029, she said.

“Providing high-quality clinical trial services to global and national sponsors, as well as supporting researcher-led trials, is core business for us,” Tiralongo said.

“Being able to operate in a COVID-safe way in an environment with, so far, low levels of coronavirus in the community in Australia, Queensland, and the Gold Coast in particular, is an advantage.”

With an intense focus on COVID-19 trials worldwide, it was important vital research and trials into other conditions continued, she said.

The Gold Coast unit has become the first in the world to recruit patients for a multi-national rheumatology trial for arthritis and other associated conditions.

The unit is also currently recruiting participants, alongside other research sites in Australia, Canada, USA, Europe and Turkey, to trial a combined meningococcal vaccine in young adults.

The unit’s Dr Claire Williams said the trial was moving ahead for the vaccine that aimed to protect adults against meningococcal disease and ensure they did not unknowingly carry it and spread it to those more vulnerable such as babies, young children, and teenagers.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can cause serious illness including meningitis and septicaemia.

“We’re really pleased to be taking part in this study because, despite everyone’s attention being currently focussed on COVID-19, it’s still vitally important that we continue to develop and improve vaccines and treatments for other chronic and serious diseases,” Williams said.

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