Protecting our front-line staff

Story courtesy of MCRI

Thanks to the incredible support of our community, MCRI have launched a global initiative to protect our front-line healthcare workers during COVID-19.

Led by Professor Nigel Curtis, the multi-centre randomised controlled trial, which started at The Royal Children’s Hospital and is being run out of the Melbourne Children’s Trials Centre will see half of healthcare workers given the BCG vaccine to test whether it can protect those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from developing severe symptoms by boosting their ‘frontline’ immunity.

BCG was originally developed against tuberculosis, and is still given to over 130 million babies worldwide each year for that purpose. The BRACE trial builds on previous research which showed that BCG can provide some protection against respiratory viral infections and a study in which BCG reduced virus levels and enhanced immunity to a virus with a structure of a similar type to SARS-CoV-2.

Philanthropic support has allowed the trial’s rapid development and rollout in Australia. This support has included $700,000 from Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch, $400,000 from the RCH Foundation,  $1.5M from The Minderoo Foundation, $200,000 from the South Australian government and support from the NAB Foundation, Calvert-Jones Foundation, HUB Foundation, River Capital and individual donors.

An additional  $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will allow MCRI’s clinical trial of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19 to extend to 10,000 healthcare workers across Australia, Spain and The Netherlands.

The grant will allow the MCRI team to expand the BRACE trial from the original target of 4000 healthcare workers.

In The Netherlands and Spain, the Radboud University Medical Center and UMC Utrecht will begin enrolling 4000 healthcare workers across 13 sites in the coming weeks.

Professor Curtis said, “We have dealt with the pandemic extremely well in Australia with rapid and thorough physical distancing, contact tracing and quarantine where appropriate. This new funding from the Gates Foundation allows other countries to also test whether additional preventative measures may help protect healthcare workers.

“These sorts of trials normally take around eight to 12 months to start, but with the early support of philanthropy, we were able to start in record time within three weeks.

“Since beginning the BRACE trial we have been inundated with requests from other hospitals wanting to be involved, both in Australia and internationally. This funding will allow us to begin delivering on those requests.”