Child having bandaid put on arm after receiving a vaccine

An international network led by The University of Queensland and including Murdoch Children’s Research Institute researchers, in partnership with Moderna, has secured funding to accelerate development of an mRNA vaccine for Strep A.

The collaborative project received more than $8 million in philanthropic funding from the Leducq Foundation to develop an mRNA vaccine to prevent severe Strep A bacterial infections and target rheumatic heart disease, which can result from the infection.

Strep A is a common contagious bacterium (germ) that can cause a range of mild and serious illnesses in children including sore throat (often called ‘strep throat’) and skin sores (impetigo or ‘school sores’).

The bacterium affects more than 750 million people worldwide and is the cause of more than 500,000 deaths every year, mostly due to severe invasive infections and rheumatic heart disease (a condition in which the heart valves are damaged). Rheumatic heart disease particularly affects people in low- and middle-income countries and remains a major problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Māoris and Pacific Islanders.

There is currently no vaccine for Strep A. If successful, this will be the world’s first vaccine to prevent this potentially deadly infection which has been on the rise across the world recently.  

The project is led by The University of Queensland’s Professor Mark Walker and includes Murdoch Children’s Professor Andrew Steer and Dr Joshua Osowicki, along with researchers from the University of Melbourne, Emory University and CONACYT in partnership with Moderna.

To help assess the new vaccine, researchers will test it using the world’s only strep throat human challenge model, recently developed by researchers from Murdoch Children’s. In the human challenge trial, healthy adult volunteers will be deliberately exposed to Strep A and carefully monitored under controlled conditions to see if the vaccine protects them from developing strep throat.

Dr Osowicki said that because Strep A only naturally infects humans, researchers were limited in what they could learn in the lab and using preclinical models.

"Human challenge models can be used to test vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests, as well as learning more about how diseases work and how to stop them,” he said. “We’re excited to use our Strep A model as a platform to give the earliest possible signal that an mRNA vaccine can stop Strep A.”

Dr Steer said he hoped the research would help develop an mRNA vaccine that provides long-term immune protection against Strep A and reduce rheumatic heart disease in children worldwide.

The Leducq Foundation is an international grant-making organisation with a mission to improve human health through international efforts to combat cardiovascular disease and stroke.


This project is supported by a Leducq Foundation grant.