Research Scoop: WA leading the way in Strep A Vaccine development

Telethon Kids Institute and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are leading the initiative, which aims to develop a clinical trial testing the safety of the vaccine in 2022.

A global philanthropic organisation has backed an Australian-led bid to develop a Strep A vaccine which could save millions of lives around the world, contributing US$5.3 million to help fund a Strep A vaccine clinical trial.

The grant, provided by Open Philanthropy, follows a catalytic AU$35 million investment by the Australian Government to help accelerate the development of a Strep A vaccine.

Development of a vaccine candidate is being coordinated by the Australian Strep A Vaccine Initiative (ASAVI), a partnership between the Telethon Kids Institute and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. ASAVI was formed to help reduce the devastating global impact of Strep A, which is responsible for more than half a million deaths a year – more than influenza, typhoid or whooping cough.

In Australia, Strep A causes significant morbidity among certain communities. “Aboriginal people are six times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to get Strep A bloodstream infections, which kill 14 per cent of people affected,” Chief Investigator and Telethon Kids Director Professor Jonathan Carapetis said.

About the disease
Strep A is the common name for Group A Streptococcus , a Gram positive, ß-haemolytic bacterium, which is responsible for a diverse range of diseases. Transmission of this bacterium usually occurs person to person, via droplets (sneezing or coughing) or by direct contact with a carrier.

In Australia and other high-income countries, the most common Strep A-related disease is pharyngitis, affecting 8–13% of children between the age of 5 and 12 every year. Strep A infection is also a common cause of impetigo (school sores) and is also the cause of scarlet fever. In some cases, infection by this bacterium can lead to other conditions, including:

  • Puerperal fever
  • Severe invasive conditions, including septicaemia, meningitis, necrotising fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) or toxic shock syndrome
  • Acute glomerulonephritis, acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

For more information about these conditions, head up to this official website.

Almost all these conditions, particularly rheumatic heart disease, disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, during 2017 there were 4,255 people living with rheumatic heart disease, and 87% were Indigenous Australians (3,687 diagnoses), as described in this study.

In recent years concerted efforts by researchers, the Australian government and other stakeholders are tackling rheumatic heart disease and other diseases caused by Strep A, with the goal of reducing the heavy burden of this disease, particularly among Indigenous populations.

About the research
An effective Strep A vaccine hold great potential to save millions of lives around the world and help improve the health of Indigenous Australians, who are so disproportionally affected by Strep A infections and associated diseases.

“A vaccine is urgently needed to prevent rheumatic heart disease in developing countries but also in Australia’s First Nations communities, where the disease burden is among the highest in the world,” ASAVI co-director, Telethon Kids Institute Director Professor Jonathan Carapetis, said in a press release.

But before we get to the vaccine testing step more research is needed. Currently, the ASAVI initiative is starting a Strep A surveillance study. For this study, researchers will recruit a total of 1050 children from Perth and Melbourne, targeting healthy children aged 3 to 14 years. The primary goal of this study is to establish the the incidence rates of sore throat, Strep A positive sore throat and serologically proven Strep A sore throat in these children.  This will form the basis for clinical trials of a vaccine in the next few years.

“ASAVI has been tasked with accelerating the development of a Strep A vaccine candidate into human trials. ASAVI has scoped the global Strep A vaccine landscape in search of the most suitable candidate for development and we will select the lead candidate and partner with the vaccine developer to progress the lead candidate through early clinical trial in Australia in Perth and Melbourne,” said Professor Andrew Steer.

“One of the first pieces of work is to establish the background Strep A rates in urban Perth and Melbourne to be able to collect baseline data to support future vaccine studies,” Professor Steer added.

Are you interested in joining this effort? According to ASAVI, GP practices who take part of this study will be asked to:

  • Identify and invite families who attend their practice with at least one child aged between 3-14 years. Recruitment materials will be provided by the research team.
  • Complete a “GP trigger visit” should a participant experience any signs or symptoms of a sore throat. This involves:
    • Collection of some clinical information about the child’s episode of sore throat via an electronic data collection form.
    • Use of the Point of Care testing machines to diagnose the child’s sore throat.
    • Collection of some biospecimens (throat swabs and blood samples) from the child as required.
    • Arrange for the required biospecimens to be transported to study research laboratory.

To learn more about ASAVI and the Strep A initiative, or to schedule a visit with the ASAVI study team to become a participating practice, please reach to: