Covid-19 ; Breaking News - Hopeful New Treatment for PID patients - Developed by Kiwi Scientists

Mon June 29th 2020

A new drug developed in NZ has been successfully tested and shown to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory; an important step before commencing human clinical trials.

10th July 2020 :Press release: Successful laboratory testing of a new COVID-19 treatment made in New Zealand.

A new drug developed in NZ has been successfully tested and shown to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory; an important step before commencing human clinical trials. 

SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, binds to the ACE2 receptor in the lungs to enter cells.  A team of scientists and clinicians from around NZ, led by Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga has made designer ACE2 proteins to block the receptor-binding domain of the virus.  In the first phase of the project, the initial version of the new drugs designed by the team and produced in the laboratory of Dr. Davide Comoletti at Victoria University of Wellington, successfully reduced infection by the virus.  Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu’s group used the PC3 facility at University of Otago to show that the new drug was able to neutralize the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to enter susceptible cells.

This project has been endorsed by the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and the Immune Deficiency Foundation of NZ (IDFNZ). 

The team is now urgently seeking government assistance to retain this project in NZ.

Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga


Adult and pediatric immunologist

Principal Investigator, on behalf of the NZACE2 project team

A full description of the project can be found in a peer-reviewed publication at (

NZACE2 Project team

1,2,3 Rohan Ameratunga (PI)

4 Klaus Lehnert

5 Euphemia Leung

6 Davide Comoletti

7 Miguel E. Quiñones-Mateu

4 Russell Snell

2 See-Tarn Woon

8 William Abbott

4 Emily Mears

2,9 Richard Steele

10Jeff McKee

11Andrew Muscroft-Taylor

12Shanthi Ameratunga

13Natalie Medlicott

13Shyamal Das

14William Rolleston

15Helen Petoussis-Harris

1Anthony Jordan

1Department of Clinical immunology, Auckland Hospital, Park Rd, Grafton 1010, Auckland New Zealand

2Department of Virology and Immunology, Auckland Hospital, Park Rd, Grafton 1010, Auckland, New Zealand

3Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, School of Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland

4School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Symonds St, Auckland, New Zealand

5Cancer Research, School of Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland

6 School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Kelburn Parade, Wellington, New Zealand

7 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

8Department of Surgery, Auckland Hospital, Park Rd, Grafton 1010, Auckland, New Zealand

9Department of Respiratory Medicine, Wellington Hospital, Wellington, New Zealand

10Ecosure-Avisure Group, Burleigh Heads, Queensland, Australia.

11Callaghan Innovations, Protein Science and Engineering, Christchurch, New Zealand

12Directorate of Public Health, Counties Manukau DHB, Auckland, New Zealand

13School of Pharmacy, University of Otago

14 South Pacific Sera, Timaru

15Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Auckland


Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga, Adult and paediatric immunologist

P +64 9 3797440

F +64 9 3072826


Congratulations to everyone working on this exciting project.

NZ Patient Briefing – Potential new treatment for COVID-19

Modified soluble ACE2 to treat COVID-19.

IDFNZ hosted a Zoom presentation in June lead by Assoc. Professor Rohan Ameratunga, explaining how the Covid-19 pandemic has become established, and the various approaches underway by researchers across the globe to tackle this new virus. Approaches range from re-purposing a wide range of existing drugs through to developing a vaccine. The pathway to an effective vaccine is long and uncertain, meanwhile the Pandemic has brought the world to a halt as governments use various social methods to flatten the rate of infection within the population.

A volunteer team of inspiring New Zealand clinicians and scientists are working on this challenge in their free time, leading the way with a novel and different approach that shows real promise.

The virus ‘spikes’ have been shown to attack the human body by attaching to the ACE2 receptors e.g on the respiratory surfaces of the lungs. Our local team believe the Achilles heel of SARS-CoV-2 is the RBD sequence of the spike glycoprotein, which is critical for viral entry. Their research strategy has been to produce modified recombinant soluble human ACE as a ‘decoy’ working to mitigate the SARS-CoV-2 infection.

If the structure of these inhaled ‘modified ACE2 molecules’ is preserved in the process of delivering it to the lungs, the virus will bind to these decoy receptors blocking the ability of the SARS-CoV 2 binding to the human ACE2 receptors; the patient is thus protected from the virus. This noveldecoy could therefore alter the trajectory of the infection, delaying or halting the destruction of the pulmonary epithelium and allowing appropriate protective immune responses to the virus

The NZ team have also developed a closed inhaler method to deliver this treatment, Respimat, (a mode of delivery which patients are familiar with), directly to the lungs to coat the ACE2 receptors on the lung surface without ‘shear damage’ to the decoy, or hazardous ‘aerosol spray’ escaping. Their results to date are really promising and have been published in the May edition of the NZ Medical Journal.

This promising research has so far been completed without external funding, the NZ team of clinicians and scientists have completed the work to date voluntarily, covering the costs themselves. They did apply for Government Covid-19 Response funding but were turned down.

 As an organization IDFNZ recognize this research is of importance to our patient members who are amongst the most vulnerable individuals in New Zealand. Even in the case of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine being developed successfully ( note there is no guarantee this is possible) and eventually being made available to the wider NZ population, it is likely that some individuals, including immune deficient patients may not be suited to a vaccine, and could be still left exposed to the virus and reliant on self-isolation for the long term if this virus becomes endemic.

This alternative approach, if proven successful and produced on a commercial scale, could provide an effective treatment which would individually shield and protect the most vulnerable from the virus. Imagine how useful such a shielding treatment could be in the setting of rest homes for the elderly, hospitals, and other high-risk patients. It is disappointing that MOH has shown no interest in this research and declined funding assistance.

IDFNZ has written to the MOH and MBIE to express support of this research and its potential benefits to vulnerable individuals in New Zealand, and potentially world-wide. We have posted a letter of support below and encourage members to copy this and send it to their local MP’s, to add your own voices.

Update letter June 29 2020 - Ass. Professor Rohan Ameratunga

IDFNZ letter to MOH

IDFNZ letter to MBI