$35m to fast-track rheumatic heart disease vaccine

Wednesday, 27 February, 2019

$35m to fast-track rheumatic heart disease vaccine

The Australian Government has announced $35 million for a national consortium to eradicate rheumatic heart disease — a deadly and devastating illness largely affecting Indigenous communities.

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a complication of bacterial streptococcus A infections of the throat and skin. If left untreated, it can cause the immune system to become overactive and antibodies to damage the heart valves.

Most commonly seen in adolescents and young adults, RHD is the leading cause of cardiovascular inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 64 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to develop the disease and nearly 20 times as likely to die from it.

Provided by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), the new funding will enable the manufacture and testing of a number of Strep A vaccines currently being developed and fast-tracking of clinical trials in Australia. The consortium will be led by the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth, with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne serving as a key partner.

The aim is to accelerate availability of a vaccine for use in Australia and internationally.

“Our government is building on the work of the Coalition to Advance New Vaccines Against Group A Streptococcus (CANVAS) initiative by providing $35 million over three years to fund the creation of a vaccine that will bring an end, once and for all, to RHD in Australia,” said Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt.

“The trials and development, led by Australia’s leading infectious disease experts and coordinated by the Telethon Kids Institute, will give hope to thousands of First Nations people whose lives and families have been catastrophically affected by this illness.”

The End RHD vaccine initiative will be directed by Professor Jonathan Carapetis, Director of the Telethon Kids Institute, and overseen by a scientific advisory board including leading Australian and international experts. The Telethon Kids Institute will accelerate one of four current Strep A vaccine candidates into a clinical trial, while the MCRI will be testing two new vaccines in human volunteers.

“Globally, Strep A is almost as deadly as malaria parasites, tuberculosis bacteria and HIV, but internationally, little has been invested in Strep A research,” said MCRI researcher Professor Andrew Steer, who will play a key role in the collaboration. “This funding is very welcome, because with a new vaccine we could stop Strep A infections in Australia and around the world.”

“A Strep A vaccine is something that researchers here in Australia and around the world have been working on for decades,” added Prof Carapetis.

“With this level of investment from the federal government, we now have the resources to accelerate this work, and make an effective and widely used Strep A vaccine a reality in the foreseeable future.”

Image caption: Dr Asha Bowen, Glenn Pearson, the Hon Ken Wyatt MP, Tenaya Bell, Vicki O’Donnell, Ms Pat Turner, Professor Jonathan Carapetis and Professor Andrew Steer.

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