The race is on to produce an effective vaccine and antiviral drugs for COVID-19, as medical research pivots towards tackling the pandemic.
The world is pinning much of its hopes of returning to normal on an effective vaccine being produced for COVID-19.
Work on a vaccine is progressing, but is expected to take 12 to 18 months. Meanwhile, Hunter scientists are working on antiviral drugs and ways to control the body's inflammatory response to COVID-19.
Hunter Medical Research Institute director, Professor Tom Walley, believes there will be "a wave of further research into this kind of virus".
"We're lucky that we have generous donations that can be allocated to particular problems as and when they arise," Professor Walley said.
HMRI is conducting work on antiviral therapy and new ways to deliver existing drugs. One challenge is that some drugs can't get to the right place in the body to stop a virus establishing itself, particularly in the lining of the airways.
"On the past form of pandemics, they've tended to occur in waves. We've got the first wave now. It's often the case that the first wave dies down and another less severe wave occurs at a later time. These potential therapies may be available for later waves," he said.
HMRI is also involved in work on a diagnostic test that allows a COVID-19 diagnosis to be made almost instantaneously. This would enable patients to isolate themselves quickly.
The organisation is also supporting clinical trials for antiviral therapies for patients with COVID-19.
Furthermore, its researchers are examining how cells from patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] react to coronavirus proteins. This could determine whether patients with asthma and COPD respond differently.
Associate Professor Jay Horvat said HMRI researchers were "primed to look at how the coronavirus interacts with our bodies and how our bodies react to the coronavirus".
Developing drugs that target the immune system, as opposed to specifically targeting the virus, is one aim.
"It's the immune response to the virus that's critical. We're looking at ways to boost protective responses and target the detrimental responses," said Dr Horvat, who teaches immunology and microbiology at the University of Newcastle.
This could involve treatments that "help the body clear the virus quicker or eliminate the detrimental immune responses that drive the inflammation".
"With the coronavirus, it's our bodies that kill us. People use the term 'cytokine storm'. Essentially it's an overzealous inflammatory response to the virus in the lungs that kills you," Dr Horvat said.
Researchers are also working on spike proteins associated with this current coronavirus. These proteins enable the virus to infect cells in people's bodies.
Professor Walley said work would also be done at HMRI on maintaining mental health during isolation.