A NEW Q fever vaccine for humans is at least six years away and further funding is needed to facilitate development research, according to a leading researcher into the debilitating disease.
Q fever is an acute or chronic disease caused by the rickettsial-like bacillus Coxiella burnetii. Acute disease causes sudden onset of fever, headache, malaise, and interstitial pneumonitis.
It is spread to humans from cattle, sheep and goats and a range of other domestic and wild animals, and vaccination campaigns are regularly held across Australia.
The New South Wales Government last month said it will invest $200,000 on research into an improved vaccine for Q Fever and $275,000 into an education campaign. The new research funding will assist the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory, working with the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute at Camden, to develop an improved vaccine.
The current vaccine is not suitable for people aged under 15 and requires screening to prevent severe reactions in those who have had previous exposure to Q fever.
Microbiologist and Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory medical director Dr Stephen R. Graves said the laboratory has been working on a new human Q fever vaccine for the past five years.
“The vaccine has been designed based on our knowledge of the structure of the bacterium and the human immune response to it.
“The intellectual property associated with the new vaccine has been granted a provisional patent,” he said.
Dr Graves said funding was now being sought to carry out a further three years study of the new vaccine in guinea pigs. These are the best laboratory animals for this work as they develop acute Q fever similar to humans when infected with Coxiella burnetii, he said.
“We expect to be doing this work at the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute (EMAI) in Menangle, NSW, part of the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
“An agreement between DPI and ARRL is currently being drawn-up,” he said.
“We need to use their PC-3 facilities to grow the bacterium to make the vaccine and to infect experimentally vaccinated guinea pigs to test the vaccine’s efficacy.”
Dr Gaves said a minimum of $500,000 was needed for vaccine testing and although welcoming the NSW Health Department’s $200,000 contribution, it will only go part way towards the research costs.
“Once we know for sure that the new vaccine works in guinea pigs and is safe in previously-exposed guinea pigs, then we will go into phase 1 human trials.
“Further funding will be required for this,” he said.
“Our preliminary studies, conducted in Newcastle, suggest that the vaccine is effective and safe in guinea pigs, but we need more and better data.
“This new human Q fever vaccine would not require patients to be pre-tested, so no blood or skin test will be required prior to vaccination, unlike the situation with Q-VAX,” Dr Graves said.
“The new human Q fever vaccine is at least six years away.
“I don’t know where the other $300,000 will come from at this stage,” he said.
“There is definitely a need for industry pressure to help.”