JCU closing in on vaccine for deadly disease


CLINICAL trials for a genome-based vaccine to combat one of the world's deadliest diseases is expected to take place in northern Queensland within the next four years.

For about five years, James Cook University has been working on three different vaccines against malaria at its Cairns-based Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine.

Malaria, which is carried by mosquitoes, is responsible for up to 3 million deaths worldwide each year.

An effective pan-species, multistage vaccine against the parasitic disease is considered the holy grail within the tropical public health sector.

A team of JCU scientists, led by the AITHM's Professor Denise Doolan, is now one step closer to developing their genome-based vaccine, which uses specimens collected from Papua New Guinean children naturally infected by the disease.

The researchers have now been able to narrow down the malaria proteins and the disease-fighting antibodies that could be used to develop the vaccine against the infection.

Prof Doolan said that on the team's current research trajectory, they hoped to be able to progress to clinical trials by the early 2020s.

"In terms of logistics, we could get this up very, very quickly," she said. "At JCU, we are developing capacity to do human trials in Townsville, and that should be operational next year - the first sort of studies to translate our clinical trial capability up here."

However, she said getting the vaccine to a market-ready stage could take anywhere between 10-20 years due to the medicine approvals process.

She said the nature of the research was also very difficult, due to the hardy survival strategy of the parasite (plasmodium) that causes malaria.