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Australian Researchers Launching Coronavirus Treatment Trial Using TB Vaccine

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Infectious disease researchers from Down Under are joining the fight against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus with a new series of controlled clinical trials that will explore virus treatment using the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine - commonly used to prevent tuberculosis.

The Melbourne-based Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) announced in a Friday news release that affiliated scientists are preparing to investigate the effectiveness of the BCG vaccine in reducing symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus.

The study, endorsed by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, is not seeking to cure COVID-19. Instead, researchers are attempting to find a way to lessen the risk posed to health care workers by the virus.

“Australian medical researchers have a reputation for conducting rigorous, innovative trials,” said Professor Kathryn North, director of the MCRI, in a statement within the release. “This trial will allow the vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19 symptoms to be properly tested, and may help save the lives of our heroic frontline health care workers.”

The release explains that the upcoming study, led by clinician-scientist Nigel Curtis, head of the MCRI’s Infectious Diseases Research Group, is based off previous findings which concluded the BCG vaccine “reduces the level of virus when people are infected with similar viruses” to the novel coronavirus.

“We aim to enroll 4,000 health care workers from hospitals around Australia, including the Melbourne Campus’ Royal Children’s Hospital, to allow us to accurately say whether it can lessen the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. And we need to enroll them in the coming weeks, so the clock is definitely ticking,” Curtis noted.

The BCG vaccine has been commonly administered for decades to prevent tuberculosis. Healthy babies in countries with high incidences of tuberculosis or leprosy are generally given a dose of the vaccine - containing a weakened strain of bacteria in the tuberculosis family - to teach their bodies how to respond to the germs and subsequently boost their immune systems.

This trial announcement follows the WHO’s March 18 notice revealing the start of its first vaccine trial and including a global request for countries to implement their own prevention programs to slow the transmission of COVID-19.

According to Science.com, at least 12 novel coronavirus treatments are being tested, including drugs commonly used to treat HIV and malaria.

As of this article’s publication, Australia accounts for 3,143 of the total 566,269 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 13 of the 25,423 deaths from the contagious disease.

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