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Cure Kids Welcomes Government’s $10m Pledge For Strep Throat Vaccine Development, To Help Combat Rheumatic Fever

Press Release – CureKids

New Zealand charity Cure Kids is welcoming the Government’s $10 million pledge to help fund research for a strep throat vaccine, which could prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

The government funding follows Cure Kids’ commitment in 2020 of more than $3 million over three years to help eradicate the “disease of poverty”, with the funding enabling six research projects.

One of the projects funded by Cure Kids is run by Dr Jacelyn Loh, a senior research fellow and member of the Infection and Immunity cluster in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology at the University of Auckland, who is working to increase the effectiveness of a vaccine already shown to protect against Strep A infection in animals.

Rheumatic fever is an auto-immune disease which occurs in response to an infection of the skin or throat with Group A Streptococcus (e.g. strep throat). Rheumatic heart disease, or RHD, refers to the damage which this inflammation causes to the heart valves.

Approximately 600 to 800 people are admitted to hospital each year in NZ with underlying rheumatic heart disease. Of these, 150 to 200 die. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has estimated that a new vaccine could reduce the number of deaths and the harm caused to hundreds of children every year.

Frances Benge, CEO of Cure Kids, New Zealand’s largest charitable funder of child health research, has welcomed the Government’s funding pledge.

“We are thrilled that the Government is pledging their support for vaccines, laboratory testing, and pathogen surveillance, with the aim of eventually eradicating this devastating illness,” she says.

“Cure Kids has been funding research into the development of a vaccine to prevent, treat, and ultimately, stomp out rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.”

Summary of Dr Jacelyn Loh’s research project:

Dr Jacelyn Loh, The University of Auckland

Accelerating vaccine development of TeeVax

Rheumatic fever (RF) is a debilitating disease that disproportionately affects Māori and Pacific children in New Zealand. Annual RF rates range from 23 to 99 per 100,000 among Māori and Pacific children 5 to 14 years of age. These are some of the highest rates reported globally.

RF can lead to irreversible heart damage and premature death. Therefore, current treatment options rely on long-term antibiotic therapy to prevent Strep A bacterial skin and throat infections associated with recurrent RF episodes. Children are asked to have monthly injections of Benzathine Penicillin for 10 years or more to prevent infections that would further damage their hearts.

Dr Loh and her team have developed a vaccine called TeeVax that targets the ‘T-antigen’ found on the surface of Strep A, has broad strain coverage, and has shown to induce protection against highly invasive Strep A infection in animals.

Dr Loh’s project will improve the formulation of TeeVax, and study how it works against infection. The goal is to maximise the coverage, safety, and efficacy of the vaccine so that it is ready to begin clinical trials in humans.

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