Strep A is increasing in the UK and has already killed at least 19 children. Here’s why it’s taken so long to make a vaccine against this deadly pathogen.

A Strep A outbreak has killed at least 19 children in the UK.Rodolfo Parulan Jr./Getty Images

  • Strep A is rising in the UK and has killed at least 19 children, the UK Health Security Agency has said.

  • The disease, which can lead to serious complications, can often be treated with antibiotics.

  • A vaccine would be preferable, but research groups have encountered obstacles while developing it.

A resurgence of group A streptococcal infections, or strep A infections, is causing concern in the UK. As of December 15, at least 19 child deaths have been reported by the UK Health Security Agency.

These numbers are unusual – this is the biggest outbreak of severe strep A in years. It is unclear why this sharp increase is occurring, although the lifting of pandemic restrictions may play a role.

Some researchers have speculated that during periods of confinement, children were not exposed to strep A, so they did not develop any immune resistance to the disease. This theory has not been proven.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also investigating whether there has been an increase in severe cases of strep A in his country. He advises parents to be on the lookout for serious symptoms and to make sure their children keep up with their flu and chickenpox shots.

Strep A usually causes a sore throat and sometimes a rash. If it becomes advanced enough, in rare cases, it can lead to complications such as scarlet fever, rheumatic heart disease, necrotizing fasciitis, and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal.

According to the Strep A Vaccine Global Consortium, strep causes approximately 500,000 annual deaths, many of which occur in countries whose residents bring middle and low incomes. Of these deaths, 350,000 are attributed to rheumatic heart disease caused by strep A, while 150,000 are caused by acute infection.

Researchers have been trying to make a strep vaccine for decades

If caught in time, strep A can be treated with antibiotics. But what may be needed is a vaccine that can prevent infection.

Vaccine development has been underway for decades. One of the first attempts dates back to 1946, but it had many side effects and did not protect against infections. There is a vaccine that protects against different but related bacteria, streptococcal pneumonia.

But Strep A is difficult to vaccinate for several reasons: there is a lot of variation in which parts of the bacteria to target, vaccines need to be safe and not trigger any autoimmune response, and animal models are not ideal for study how the Strep A infection works. Additionally, there has been no significant monetary incentive for companies to attempt to develop a vaccine.

There is no commercially available vaccine, but several research groups are working to develop one. The candidates are in trials, but they’re all early or preclinical trials, which means it’s likely to be several years before any of them are made available to the public.

Many research groups working on a Strep A vaccine have encountered obstacles

One of the most advanced groups in the development of a Strep A vaccine is made up of researchers from the University of Tennessee and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. The group has developed a candidate vaccine called StreptAnova and published a phase one trial in 2011. It has also completed some early safety trials.

But James Dale, one of StreptAnova’s lead developers and one of the study’s lead authors, told Insider there has been no progress since that first trial.

“There has been no interest from the pharmaceutical industry or the vaccine industry to support further clinical development,” he told Insider in an email. “Until we have substantial financial support, StreptAnova remains a ‘hindered’ vaccine.”

Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research also completed a phase one trial in 2018 with 10 adult participants. These researchers did not respond to a request for comment on whether their vaccine was still in development.

The most recent Strep A vaccine candidate comes from two groups at the University of Alberta and Griffith University, which began a phase one trial with 20 participants in late November. They hope to train the immune system to identify a protein that is a fusion of two common proteins on the strep A bacteria so that the vaccine will be effective against a wide variety of strep group strains.

A GSK spokesperson confirmed to Insider that it is also in the early stages of developing a Strep A vaccine, but has not started human testing.

“We hope that our experience in developing innovative vaccines against pathogens for which there were no vaccines before, and technological advances in vaccinology, could lead to a successful Strep A vaccine in the years to come,” said said a company spokesperson.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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