At least 2,000 WA healthcare workers will help test whether an existing tuberculosis vaccine can reduce their chance of COVID-19 infection, lessen the severity of symptoms and boost immunity.
Minderoo Foundation today committed $1.5 million to the Telethon Kids Institute to support the roll out of the BRACE trial using the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine in Western Australia.
The trial is led by Telethon Kids clinical researchers Professor Tobias Kollmann, Professor Steve Stick and Professor Peter Richmond, who is also the Director of Research at Perth Children’s Hospital.
The trial, run in partnership with Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne, has been endorsed by the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has called for global support and assistance in the fight against COVID-19.
Minderoo Foundation Chairman Dr Andrew Forrest AO said supporting clinical trials was a key component of the Minderoo Foundation’s efforts to combat the virus.
“While BCG is not a vaccine specific to COVID-19, it could be a vehicle to reduce the spread and severity of the virus amongst hospital staff and limit the strain on our healthcare system,” Dr Forrest said.
“If BCG is proven to be effective the global significance will be substantial. This has the potential to be a readily available and inexpensive intervention that could be used in future pandemics until a specific vaccine is developed.”
Minderoo Foundation Co-founder Nicola Forrest AO said protecting the health and wellbeing of frontline workers was crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“We know that frontline healthcare workers in our hospitals will be doing all they can to help those who are worst affected by COVID-19 and we need to help these heroes stay healthy,” Mrs Forrest said.
Telethon Kids Institute Director Professor Jonathan Carapetis said Minderoo Foundation’s support was critical to ensure this important research can start now.
“The philanthropic leadership by Minderoo Foundation enables a swift and pragmatic approach to supporting the health system in these toughest of times,” Professor Carapetis said.
“We know from other studies that the BCG vaccine provides protection against a diverse range of pathogens and has reduced the impact of respiratory tract infections.
“It also has been shown to boost the effects of the flu vaccine, which will be given to these study volunteers at the same time. This effect alone could be very important.
“As WA’s largest medical research organisation, the Telethon Kids Institute is focused on the battle against COVID-19. Although we usually focus on disease in children, our team is ready to roll out a range of crucial COVID-19 research. Our scientists are skilled at understanding viruses and running clinical trials similar to this one, in collaboration with our health services.”
Child and Adolescent Health Service Chief Executive Dr Aresh Anwar acknowledged on behalf of his colleagues across North and South Metropolitan Health Services, the incredible hard work and dedication of the teams involved in making this study happen.
“It has been a true collaboration across our three tertiary hospitals and with Telethon Kids Institute. Together, we are determined to use this opportunity to discover ways to protect our frontline clinical staff from the impact of COVID-19,” he said.
Recruitment of healthcare workers for the study will take place over the next week at:
• Perth Children’s Hospital, led by Prof. Peter Richmond;
• Fiona Stanley Hospital, led by Prof. Laurens Manning;
• Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, led by Prof. Michaela Lucas.
Another 2,000 participants will be recruited at sites in Melbourne through study partner Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, where the lead investigator is Professor Nigel Curtis, who is also the study’s overall principal investigator.