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BCG vaccine trial to protect Australian healthcare workers starts, enabled by major philanthropic backing

COVID-19
Thursday, April 2, 2020 - 10:31am

The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has started vaccinating healthcare workers as part of a multi-centre randomised clinical trial of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19.

The BRACE trial, announced last week, has already vaccinated over 300 of an eventual 4000 medical workers in hospitals across Australia, half of whom will be given the BCG vaccine.

BCG was originally developed against tuberculosis, and is still given to over 130 million babies annually for that purpose.

Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch have donated $700,000 to the trial, which is designed to test whether BCG, which boosts humans’ ‘frontline’ immunity, can protect healthcare workers exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from developing severe symptoms.

“Supporting medical research and protecting our highly exposed healthcare workforce is essential during this pandemic. Our healthcare workers, scientists and researchers are working around the clock to find the solutions we need so desperately,” said MCRI Ambassador and Board Director, Sarah Murdoch.

The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, which awarded a $400,000 grant, is amongst the other supporters who provided funds to enable the trial’s rapid development and rollout at the Melbourne Children’s Campus.

The researchers hope to show that improving ‘innate’ immunity of frontline healthcare workers will provide crucial time to develop and importantly, validate, a specific anti-COVID-19 vaccine.

Led by Professor Nigel Curtis, a clinician-scientist who leads MCRI’s Infectious Diseases Research Group, the BRACE trial builds on previous studies which showed that BCG reduces the viral load, and lessens their symptoms, when people are infected with respiratory viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. 

Professor Curtis said, “The support from Sarah and Lachlan, together with The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, was vital to be able to start our trial on Monday. We needed to be ahead of the pandemic curve to be able to protect our frontline staff, and these vital contributions have allowed us to meet that deadline.

“These sorts of trials normally take around eight to 12 months to start, but with the early support of philanthropy, we were able to start within three weeks.

“Since beginning the BRACE trial we have been inundated with requests from other hospitals wanting to get involved, both in Australia and internationally.”

Two of these centres are located in South Australia and Perth. The South Australian site will be coordinated through SAHMRI, and was enabled by a $200,000 funding announcement from the South Australian state government. 

Three sites in Perth will be coordinated by the Telethon Kids Institute, and funded by the Minderoo Foundation which contributed $1.5 million.

Professor Curtis said, “The funding support was crucial to quickly enable these other sites to contribute to the BRACE trial. We join our colleagues at these sites in thanking the funding bodies for so generously giving to this vital research effort.”
 

MCRI Director, Professor Kathryn North, said, “This philanthropic leadership shown by our Ambassador and Board Director Sarah Murdoch, with husband Lachlan and together with The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation and MCRI’s valued donors, is vital to support urgent medical research at this critical time.”

“I invite further support to fund the expansion of this trial and other COVID-19 projects we are undertaking. We are all in a race against time.”  

Sarah said, “Australia is home to some of the best medical researchers in the world and we are proud to support them at this time when the whole world is looking to science for the answers.” 

“The RCH Foundation is proud to support the BRACE Trial. We know our healthcare workers play a crucial and life-saving role in caring for our community during these unprecedented times. We hope, like all of us, that the

BCG vaccine will help to reduce the severity of COVID-19 amongst our heroic healthcare workforce,” said Sue Hunt, Chief Executive Officer, RCH Foundation.

Visit the MCRI website for more information on the BRACE trial 

Available for interview: 
Professor Andrew Steer, Head of Infection and Immunity at MCRI
Professor Nigel Curtis, Head, BRACE trial

Media Contact: 
Bridie Byrne                                
MCRI communications specialist                 
+61 403 664 416                    
bridie.byrne@mcri.edu.au