The International Vaccine Institute (IVI) and Australia's Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) will coordinate a global push to free the world of Group A Streptococcus (Strep A), the contagious bacteria that kills half a million people every year and is developing resistance to antibiotics.
The British biomedical research foundation, the Wellcome Trust, has granted $2.25 million to IVI and MCRI to coordinate world efforts to develop a vaccine against Strep A and find manufacturers.
Director General of IVI, Dr Jerome Kim, said that Strep A, a bacterial pathogen, is one of the most deadly infectious diseases - ranking with tuberculosis (TB), HIV, and malaria but globally very little had been invested in Strep A research.
Strep A is one of the main causes of death from infectious diseases, claiming 500,000 lives per year; however few people are aware of it.
Strep A usually begins with a sore throat, but if left untreated it causes the immune system to become overactive, resulting in rheumatic heart disease, which damages heart valves and over time causes heart failure and death. This affects more than 33 million people around the world, and the vast majority of deaths are in low-and-middle-income countries. A vaccine would be the most effective and cost-effective way to control infection."
Dr Jerome Kim, Director General of IVI
The World Health Organization prioritized a vaccine for Strep A in 2014, and in 2018 unanimously passed a resolution calling for action against rheumatic heart disease, including a vaccine against Strep A.
MCRI's Head of Infection and Immunity, Prof Andrew Steer, said there were concerns in the scientific community about the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat Strep A in the future as groups of Strep A had evolved to be resistant to the antibiotics azithromycin and clarithromycin.
"Already invasive Strep A infections like the notorious 'flesh-eating bacteria' and 'toxic shock' kill 150,000 people around the globe each year," said Prof Steer, who is also an honorary fellow with the University of Melbourne.
"But there is little awareness of Strep A among the public, policymakers, and even scientists - and so there has been little incentive for major vaccine manufacturers to get behind vaccine development."
"IVI and MCRI have set up an international consortium to pool wisdom and resources to embark on an overdue process to develop one of the vaccines the world most urgently needs and most terribly underfunds."
Work to raise awareness and build global support for the development of a Strep A vaccine is supported by the new Wellcome grant. "We will create the means to advocate internationally for increased vaccine research and develop the cases for investment in Strep A vaccines at business and policy levels," Dr Kim said. "By the end of the project, we also hope to have identified a major vaccine manufacturer."
Head of Vaccines at the Wellcome Trust, Dr Charlie Weller, said that vaccines are hugely powerful in preventing the spread of infectious disease globally.
"Strep A bacteria causes many serious infections, including scarlet fever and rheumatic heart disease," Dr Weller said.
"It is among the top 10 causes of death worldwide, and concerns are growing about the effectiveness of the antibiotics we have to treat patients. With a Strep A vaccine huge numbers of lives could be protected, but this cannot happen without international collaboration and support.
"We hope to accelerate development of the investment case for a Strep A vaccine and better understanding of the impact it would have on global public health."
Source: University of Melbourne