Rheumatic fever investment welcomed by Maurice Wilkins Centre
19 February 2013
The announcement of funding for a trans-Tasman project to investigate potential vaccines for rheumatic fever has been welcomed by the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, New Zealand’s Centre of Research Excellence tackling major human diseases.
The Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Australia have committed NZ$3 million over two years for a project to identify vaccines that could be taken into clinical development.
The announcement aligns well with a workshop the Centre will hold next month, which is attracting world experts to discuss solutions and strategies for group A streptococcal infection, the bacterial disease that causes rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever, which can lead to life-threatening rheumatic heart disease, is one of the Maurice Wilkins Centre’s strategic priorities. The disease, which is now rare in most wealthy countries, remains a major health concern in New Zealand and Australia, with Māori, Pasifika and Aboriginal communities having amongst the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world.
At a national symposium on superbug threats in New Zealand convened by the Maurice Wilkins Centre in 2010, infectious disease consultants identified rheumatic fever as one of their greatest concerns. The Centre has strong capabilities in the biology of group A streptococcus, including deputy director Professor John Fraser’s world-leading expertise, and as a result of the symposium rheumatic fever became a priority for the Centre.
“This is an excellent example of a national need being matched with national scientific strengths,” says Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre Professor Rod Dunbar.
As part of its subsequent work on rheumatic fever, the Centre is convening a high-level workshop, to be held in March, that is attracting the world’s foremost experts on group A streptococcal biology and disease. A particular focus for the event will be discussion of how to develop an effective vaccine strategy for the Australasian region. Since there are many different strains of streptococcus, any effort to develop a vaccine would need to focus on the particular strains found in this part of the world.
“Our workshop aligns well with the recently-announced trans-Tasman strategy to fast-track the development of a vaccine targeting rheumatic fever,” says Professor Dunbar. “We’re delighted that the New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers have made such a strong commitment to tackling this very serious disease, and look forward to the release of further details about the trans-Tasman initiative."