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QIMR and Merck Initiate Vaccine Research Collaboration

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) and Merck & Co., Inc., a global pharmaceutical company, have entered into a research collaboration to develop a vaccine to combat Group A Streptococcus (GAS).

GAS causes a broad range of diseases from common illnesses like strep throat and skin sores, to life-threatening invasive conditions such as blood poisoning, toxic shock syndrome and soft tissue infection.

“GAS-associated diseases occur globally and are serious problems in many developing nations and among indigenous populations of many developed nations,” said Professor Michael Good, Director of QIMR.

“Of special concern is the potential for serious complications following infections caused by GAS including rheumatic heart disease and kidney disease. Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are major causes of childhood heart disease and are responsible for between 25 and 50 percent of cardiac conditions in developing countries.”

The World Health Organization recently reported that 18.1 million people currently suffer from a serious GAS disease and 1.78 million new cases occur each year. GAS induced diseases are responsible for over 500,000 deaths annually with 350,000 of these being from rheumatic heart disease.

“Development of a vaccine that will prevent GAS infections would have major health benefits particularly for our Indigenous communities,” explained Professor Good.

Aboriginal communities of northern and central Australia suffer the highest reported incidence of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in the world.

Large epidemics of GAS frequently result in post-infectious kidney disease in Aboriginal communities in northern Australia with high risk factors for chronic renal disease.

“We are pleased to be collaborating with QIMR in this research program aimed at addressing the serious need for an effective anti-GAS vaccine,” said Dr. John Shiver, Worldwide Basic Research Franchise Head for Vaccines at Merck.

“Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have been working on a GAS vaccine for over a decade,” added Professor Good.

“This latest collaboration will allow us to advance the development of the vaccine toward clinical trials, and ultimately closer to the marketplace.”