The University of Western Australia and its affiliate, the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research have welcomed a commitment by the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers to fast track the development of a vaccine against rheumatic fever - an important contributor to premature deaths and reduced life expectancy in Indigenous communities.
The Prime Ministers have agreed to provide $2.4 million dollars over two years to identify potential vaccines that could progress to clinical trials.
The Director of the Telethon Institute, Professor Jonathan Carapetis, said while rheumatic heart disease is now rare in wealthy countries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Maori and Pacific communities have among the highest rates of the disease in the world.
"While treatments for patients with rheumatic heart disease are improving, it's critical that we stop the disease from occurring in the first place and the quickest way to achieve that will be with a rheumatic fever vaccine," Professor Carapetis said.
"Although researchers have been working on rheumatic fever vaccines for a century, we still don't have one. This decision is just what the field needs - a focused effort driven by two governments who have populations suffering rates of rheumatic heart disease among the highest in the world.
"This funding will enable a focused and collaborative effort from researchers, industry and governments to identify the leading vaccines currently in development and overcome any obstacles to get them ready for human trials.
"A vaccine resulting from this initiative will not only be critical in eradicating this disease in Australia and NZ - a disease of yesteryear for most, but not for Indigenous people - but will also be a vaccine for the world."
Professor Carapetis will be presenting at the World Congress on Paediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery in Cape Town, South Africa next week.