Funding injection for Strep A vaccine research

9 February 2023

A University of Queensland-led research effort to develop an mRNA vaccine against Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) has secured almost $8 million in philanthropic funding.

The Leducq Foundation has announced support for the project that could reduce Strep A infections, which cause more than 500,000 deaths a year – with about 70 per cent resulting from rheumatic heart disease.

Developing an mRNA vaccine with Moderna

IMB's Professor Mark Walker and UQ's Frazer Institute's Professor Gabrielle Belz 

IMB's Professor Mark Walker said there was no vaccine for prevention of Strep A, but efficacy data from the team’s preclinical studies was promising.

“The support from the Leducq Foundation will allow us to build on research already underway at UQ where we have been collaborating with Moderna to develop an mRNA vaccine against Strep A,” Professor Walker said.

The Strep A bacteria causes strep throat and scarlet fever, and is a major driver of antibiotic use in children.


Heart disease caused by repeat infections

Repeated infections can lead to rheumatic heart disease, the most significant cause of childhood death due to heart failure.

Dr David Milan, Leducq Chief Scientific Officer, said this innovative approach to a Strep A vaccine falls squarely within the cardiovascular disease mission of the Leducq Foundation.

Dr Nichaela Harbison-Price is part of the research team at IMB developing the vaccine.

“Leducq is excited about the potential of a StrepA mRNA vaccine to significantly reduce not only strep throat infections but subsequent rheumatic heart disease, a major source of mortality worldwide, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” Dr Milan said.

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said she was extremely grateful for the Leducq Foundation’s recognition and support of the University as a centre for excellence in vaccine research and discovery.

“It is a great example of how industry, academia and philanthropic organisations can work together to tackle some of the world’s significant global public health challenges,” Professor Terry said.

Tackling a global public health challenge

Moderna’s Dr Obadiah Plante said this collaboration has the potential to deliver an mRNA vaccine for the prevention of Strep A-caused disease.

“This brings together Moderna’s research team and leaders in the Strep A field across research, immunology and clinical practice to address a common goal,” Dr Plante said.

“We are excited to develop an mRNA-based Group A Streptococcus vaccine and look forward to continuing our partnership with The University of Queensland to accelerate this research.”

Reducing the burden of Strep A infections

Immunologist Professor Gabrielle Belz from UQ’s Frazer Institute said the crucial collaboration aimed to reduce or eliminate the burden of Strep A infections.

“We hope further research and testing will establish proof of concept and ultimately translate into a mRNA vaccine that provides long term immune protection,” Professor Belz said.

The team includes researchers from UQ, the University of Melbourne, the Murdoch Children’s Institute, Emory University, CONACYT and Moderna.