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Strep A Vaccine Project Launched

Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria

3-D computer-generated image of Streptococcus pyogenes, a group A strep bacteria (Sarah Bailey Cutchin,

31 May 2019. An international initiative is underway to begin work on a vaccine against group A streptococcus infections becoming resistant to today’s antibiotics. The project is led by a team from International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and funded by a $2.25 million grant from the Wellcome Trust in the U.K.

Group A streptococcus, or strep A, bacterial infections often begin as a common sore throat, known as strep throat, but if not treated can progress into more serious and even life-threatening disorders. Among these complications are the skin disease impetigo, scarlet fever, rheumatic heart disease, toxic shock syndrome, and necrotizing fasciitis, often called flesh-eating disease. World Health Organization estimates 500,000 people worldwide a year die from strep A infections.

The urgency for a vaccine against strep A infections is heightened by reports of resistant strains of bacteria to common antibiotics azithromycin and clarithromycin, according to Murdoch Institute pediatric infections researcher Andrew Steer. He notes in a joint statement that, “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.”

WHO in 2018 prioritized strep A infections as a growing public health problem, but also pointed out a difficult road to develop a vaccine to protect against it. In a paper published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in January 2019, WHO points out that development of strep A vaccines are hampered by, “Lack of relevant animal models, high genetic diversity of antigen targets, safety concerns, and lack of consensus on clinical endpoints for establishment of proof of concept ….” In addition, uncertain or insufficient market incentives reduce the interest of vaccine developers.

The Wellcome Trust grant funds work by the International Vaccine and Murdoch institutes to raise awareness and build support worldwide for a strep A vaccine. “We will create the means to advocate internationally for increased vaccine research,” says Jerome Kim, director-general of International Vaccine Institute, “and develop the cases for investment in Strep A vaccines at business and policy levels.”

Steer adds that the institutes, “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.” Among the goals of the project is to find a manufacturer should the research discover a strep A vaccine.

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