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Advance Queensland fellowship to help fast-track chikungunya vaccine

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute scientist Dr Natalie Prow will help speed up the development of a vaccine for chikungunya virus after receiving an Advance Queensland Fellowship from the State Government.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne disease related to Ross River virus. The largest ever epidemic of chikungunya recently led to millions of cases of the virus across Africa, Asia and the Americas. The disease is primarily associated with debilitating joint pain, which can persist for more than a year. In rare cases, chikungunya has caused deaths, especially amongst elderly people and newborn babies.

There is currently no vaccine approved and available for human use.

Australian biotech company Sementis, in collaboration with University of South Australia, has developed a chikungunya vaccine. Dr Prow will work with Sementis and QIMR Berghofer’s world-leading infectious diseases researcher Professor Andreas Suhrbier to conduct laboratory tests on the vaccine, with the aim of progressing to human clinical trials.

“This fellowship from Advance Queensland will allow us to find out more about how this vaccine would work in humans and to develop the appropriate tests that are needed for clinical trials,” Professor Suhrbier said.

“The sooner we can start clinical trials of the vaccine, the sooner we may be able to prevent the suffering of millions of people.”

If successful, the vaccine technology could in future be modified to also protect against Zika virus, which has been associated with microcephaly in new born babies.

QIMR Berghofer’s Director and CEO, Professor Frank Gannon, has welcomed the fellowship.

“The work on this vaccine is an excellent example of how industry and research institutes can collaborate to produce research that will have real-world consequences for the community,” Professor Gannon said.

“QIMR Berghofer’s priority is to get its research from the laboratory bench, to the biotech lab, to the hospital bedside. This fellowship will help us to do that.”