Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joins SAHMRI and others to expand international COVID-19 trial

05 May 2020
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joins SAHMRI and others to expand international COVID-19 trial

A $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will allow the BRACE Trial, run by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s (MCRI) and coordinated by SAHMRI in South Australia, to more than double its reach to 10,000 healthcare workers across Australia, Spain and The Netherlands.

The BRACE trial is designed to test whether the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, which boosts ‘frontline’ immunity, can protect healthcare workers who contract COVID-19 from developing severe symptoms.

The original target for enrolment was 4000 healthcare workers. Already more than 2500 have been enrolled in Australia

The trial is being run by Professor Nigel Curtis from MCRI, who says this grant enables an additional 6000 enrolments across sites in Sydney, The Netherlands and Spain.

“Since beginning the BRACE trial in late March we have been inundated with requests from hospitals wanting to be involved, both in Australia and internationally,” Professor Curtis said.

“This generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allows us to deliver on those requests and will be crucial for a rapid expansion of the trial.

“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.

“It will be imperative to help our researchers show whether BCG vaccination improves ‘innate’ immunity in frontline healthcare workers to buy crucial time to develop and importantly, validate, a specific anti-COVID-19 vaccine.”

Philanthropic support has also included $700,000 from Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch, $400,000 from The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation (RCHF), $1.5 million from The Minderoo Foundation and $200,000 from the South Australian government through SA Health.

The roll out of the trial in SA is being directed by SAHMRI Group Leader and Flinders University Professor, David Lynn, who says recruitment will begin soon from the Royal Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s Hospitals.

“This trial is an enormous undertaking that’s been made possible through the work of a number of people, in particular SAHMRI’s Executive Director, Professor Steve Wesselingh, and the Senior Manager of SAHMRI Clinical Research, Liddy Griffith,” Professor Lynn said.

“We aim to begin recruitment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital later next week under the direction of Dr Simone Barry, followed soon thereafter at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital which will be guided by Professor Helen Marshall.”

Healthcare workers at the Royal Adelaide and Women’s and Children’s hospitals can find more information about the BRACE Trial, including how to enrol, on SAHMRI’s dedicated BRACE Trial webpage.

The multi-centre randomised controlled trial will see half of enrolled healthcare workers given the BCG vaccine and compared with a control group to measure whether they experience boosted ‘frontline’ immunity that reduces their symptoms in the event of contracting the virus.

BCG was originally developed for protection 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 that which causes COVID-19.