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Doherty Clinical Trials is focusing on influenza and respiratory pathogens, with the goal of investigating novel antivirals and vaccines. The Doherty Institute, led by Professor Sharon Lewin, is the only laboratory in the southern hemisphere conducting human-challenge trials for respiratory pathogens. Influenza is a major concern due to its potential to cause pandemics, and the institute aims to accelerate vaccine development by testing new formulations using mRNA vaccine production capabilities in Victoria.

The processes for selecting pathogens for human-challenge trials are carefully regulated and overseen by an ethics committee. Volunteers at Doherty Clinical Trials are able to withdraw at any time, though they may need to remain in quarantine if they are infectious. They are compensated for their time at a rate set by the ethics committee, often equivalent to minimum wage. Certain viruses, such as HIV and Ebola, are excluded from trials, but diseases like malaria can be studied using sensitive tests to track parasite growth in the blood.

Previous human-challenge trials have mostly attracted university students due to their flexible schedules, but others with an interest in health or a desire for compensation also participate. The use of human-challenge trials for COVID-19 in the UK in 2021 was met with enthusiasm from volunteers but raised concerns about the long-term effects of the virus. Doherty Clinical Trials, a not-for-profit entity, will conduct research for both large pharmaceutical companies and academic groups that lack funding for their trials, setting it apart from other commercial units in Australia.

The new Australian Institute for Infectious Disease in Parkville, set to open in 2027, will be the permanent home for Doherty Clinical Trials. The institute, which is currently housed in a building that was utilized as a back-up intensive care facility during the pandemic, aims to continue conducting novel research and accelerating the development of treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases. The flexibility and unique focus of Doherty Clinical Trials allow for the exploration of new treatments and interventions that may not be possible in other commercial units.

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