New push to develop world’s first vaccine against the deadly Strep A bacteria

30 May 2019, SEOUL, South Korea – 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,” Dr Kim said.

“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.”

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.”

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The International Vaccine Institute

The International Vaccine Institute is the world’s only international organization devoted exclusively to developing and introducing new and improved vaccines to protect the world’s poorest people, especially children in developing countries. Established in 1997, IVI operates as an independent international organization under a treaty signed by 35 countries and the World Health Organization. The Institute conducts research in more than 30 countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America on vaccines against enteric and diarrheal infections, Japanese encephalitis, MERS-CoV, and dengue fever, and develops new and improved vaccines at its headquarters in Seoul, Republic of Korea. For more information, please visit http://www.ivi.int.

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, based in Melbourne, is the largest child health research institute in Australia and one of the top three worldwide. A team of more than 1200 researchers is dedicated to making discoveries to prevent and treat childhood conditions. MCRI has a major focus on developing new vaccines. MCRI researchers discovered the viral pathogen rotavirus in 1973 and developed a new rotavirus vaccine for newborns. MCRI studies the health of communities to understand what factors influence child health at the population level, and researches infectious diseases both locally and globally.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. Wellcome supports researchers, takes on big health challenges, campaigns for better science, and helps everyone get involved with science and health research.

Wellcome is a politically and financially independent foundation.

Media Contact
Christine Tondorf
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