The world should know in about a year if it has a new drug to help ward off coronavirus deaths.
Former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer is the co-founder of Implicit Bioscience, a Brisbane and US-based company behind a potential treatment for the virus.
The drug, called IC14, has already shown great promise in controlling a severe immune-system response that frequently kills COVID-19 patients.
Two US trials will assess its efficacy.
One will look at the drug's capacity to prevent hospitalised coronavirus patients from becoming so sick they wind up in intensive care.
The second will examine its ability to prevent the death of patients who are already seriously ill.
About 300 patients deemed to be at serious risk of death from coronavirus will be involved in the second trial, with early findings expected within six months and published results in about a year.
The drug could be fast-tracked for use around the world if the trials are successful.
Professor Frazer said IC14 was not specifically designed to treat COVID-19.
But early indications suggest it could be a highly effective treatment for the virus and other conditions that involve the same harmful immune-system response, such as motor neurone disease.
"To date it has been given to a fair number of healthy and ill individuals without any obvious side effects," Prof Frazer told the ABC.
The drug works by targeting a key molecule that controls whether the human body makes an inflammatory response in reaction to disease.
"COVID-19 patients who get seriously ill get seriously ill because their lungs become very inflamed," Prof Frazer said.
"That inflammation is actually the major cause of their ill health.
"Similarly with motor neurone disease, there is inflammation in the nerves in the brain, which damage the nerves sufficiently that they don't work properly.
"In both cases the inflammation is causing a problem that can be controlled by switching the inflammation down a bit."
Prof Frazer said the evolution of coronavirus demonstrated how vital it was to have effective treatments.
"The emergence of new viral strains that may be resistant to current vaccines and drugs highlights the pressing need for interventions to help people during the early stages of COVID-19 respiratory disease," he said.
In 2006, Prof Frazer was named Australian of the Year after he and his team created a world-first vaccine for two high-risk types of human papillomavirus linked to cervical cancer.
Australian Associated Press