Associate Professor Jack Richards (left) and Professor Mark Stoové
Two Burnet Institute innovative research projects are to be fast-tracked towards translational health outcomes thanks to the support of the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF).
A pilot functionality study of a synthetic hydrogel condom, and a rapid diagnostic tool for hepatitis C to speed access to treatment, are among 14 pioneering medical research projects to benefit from the AUD$3 million third round of the VMRAF.
Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said securing funding for four innovative projects over the past three VMRAF rounds was reflective of Burnet’s strong research translational approach. In previous rounds, Burnet’s Retroviral Biology and Antivirals Group, in partnership with Swinburne University, was awarded funding to develop a hydrogel-based intravaginal drug delivery device, and the Global Health Diagnostics Development Group was supported for their development of a point-of-care test for the early detection of sepsis.
“We welcome and thank the Victorian Government for supporting these research initiatives in taking the vital next step in development to achieve positive health outcomes,” Professor Crabb said.
- A pilot functionality study of a synthetic hydrogel condom receives AUD$500,000
- Producing a condom that people actually want to use would revolutionise safe sex, STI prevention and family planning
- Development of a new diagnostic test for hepatitis C virus attracts AUD$100,000
- Aim is to enable this type of testing for hepatitis C at the patient’s first consultation.
In the current funding round, the pilot functionality study of a synthetic hydrogel condom has attracted AUD$500,000 in funding and will be led by Burnet’s Professor Mark Stoové and Professor Paul Dietze, in collaboration with Australian-based manufacturer, Eudaemon Technologies.
“This VMRAF collaborative research grant will significantly boost the clinical development and regulatory approval of the novel hydrogel condom, and help to establish Victoria as a leader for sexual health product testing,” Professor Stoové said.
“Producing a condom that people actually want to use would revolutionise safe sex, STI prevention and family planning.”
Condoms make up a critical pillar of the global strategies towards sexual health, with the production of nearly 27 billion units distributed each year. But condom avoidance is estimated to cost USD$60 billion dollars annually.
“Victoria is also experiencing an increased health burden associated with STIs, with rates of chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea significantly increasing over the past decade,” Professor Stoové said.
“Currently, condoms are the only consumer-based medical device that can simultaneously protect against STIs and unplanned pregnancy.
“However, reduced sensation is the largest reported issue limiting the consistent use of condoms, and so this pilot functionality study will assess whether a more usable and pleasurable synthetic hydrogel condom developed by Eudaemon Technologies can increase consumer acceptance and uptake.”
Rapid diagnostic tool for hepatitis C to speed access to treatment
Also funded in the current VMRAF funding round is work to progress the development of a new diagnostic test for hepatitis C virus (HCV), in collaboration with an Australian-owned diagnostics company, Axxin Pty Ltd. This project received AUD$100,000 in funding to advance the development of a point-of-care test to detect HCV RNA and speeding up access to treatment.
Victoria has over 65,000 people living with chronic HCV who are at an increased risk of liver failure and liver cancer. New direct-acting antivirals, available in Australia through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, have high cure rates, minimal side-effects and short treatment courses.
Chief Investigators, Burnet’s Associate Professor Jack Richards and Associate Professor David Anderson, welcomed the funding grant support and said developing a point-of-care molecular assay for hepatitis C was an important step in increasing the uptake of direct-acting antivirals and improving patient outcomes.
“It’s an exciting initiative being led by Burnet, in collaboration with Axxin, with whom we have worked closely on LAMP methods for detection of malaria, and the use of their market-ready instruments that could be deployed at point-of-care,” Dr Richards said.
“Having established the principals, hepatitis C is an obvious target with the need for improved diagnostics - easier, quicker and cheaper”.
“This project will have a major focus on how we can go from a finger prick blood sample to a final result without any separate, manual steps for the operator. Once that is achieved, it will be important to validate it in real-world settings, where the cost and availability of HCV molecular testing is a real barrier to effective treatment programs".
Burnet’s expertise in diagnostic development is a key driver supporting this project.
“Diagnostic technologies are evolving rapidly and opening up opportunities at the interfaces between basic lab science, clinical medicine and public health,” Dr Richards said.
“There are new methods for amplifying the genes of infectious diseases organisms, like hepatitis C. These new methods are leading to faster results and innovative point-of-care tests.
“Translating our research into positive health outcomes for vulnerable communities is part of our mission. Burnet recently trained local health staff in remote areas on the Vietnam-Cambodia border in these methods and tested 6000 people for malaria. Following that successful implementation, we are now adapting these methods to the challenges of other global diseases like viral hepatitis.
“Our aim is to enable this type of testing for hepatitis C at the patient’s first consultation, to avoid the need to send off samples for lab-based diagnostic tests and reducing delays in case management.
“We hope that this will allow immediate initiation of curative antiviral drugs for those people who need it, wherever they live.”
Find out more about our projects or The Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund which is an initiative under Victoria’s Health and Medical Research Strategy 2016-2020.