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May 4: Six million euros for international BCG research against COVID-19 among 10,000 healthcare workers

An investigation in Australia into the possible protection of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19 will be further expanded in the coming weeks thanks to a grant of € 6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With this grant, the research will be extended to the Netherlands and Spain. In the Netherlands, Radboudumc and University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht will coordinate the research, in which 4,000 healthcare workers can participate in 13 locations.

In the past few months, two studies have already been initiated in the Netherlands into the possible protective effect of the BCG vaccine against the corona virus. 1,500 health workers participate in the first study. A total of 1,600 people over the age of 60 can participate in the second study. During this period, a large study (BRACE trial) was also launched in Australia into the protective effect of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19. With the grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the number of Australian participants in that research can now be increased from 4,000 to 6,000 healthcare workers. In combination with participation from the Netherlands and Spain, this will bring the number to 10,000 participants in the study.

Gates Foundation

The study in Australia was initiated by Professor Nigel Curtis, a physician-researcher at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne. "With the support of the Gates Foundation, the BRACE trial can now be rapidly expanded in Australia and also be rolled out internationally through the participation of Spain and the Netherlands," said Curtis.

“It is great that we can now carry out this international BCG trial together during this time of crisis,” says Marc Bonten, professor of molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases at UMC Utrecht. "The research is a huge help in determining whether BCG actually reduces the symptoms of COVID-19 and reduces the risk of acquiring an infection."

More people, earlier results

Mihai Netea, professor at Radboudumc, is also pleased with the international research made possible by this grant. "We have been investigating the" side effects "of the BCG vaccine at Radboudumc for about ten years," he says. “This, because the vaccine not only protects against tuberculosis. There is clear evidence that it may also evoke broader protection against other infectious diseases. Whether it also offers protection against the corona virus, these BCG studies have to show. The more people that participate in the study, the sooner we can expect results.”

Boost immune system

The BCG vaccine was developed to protect against tuberculosis and is therefore not directly targeted against the coronavirus. In addition to protecting against tuberculosis, the vaccine also seems to (temporarily) boost the immune system. This boost may provide additional protection against a coronavirus infection, which may result in fewer people to suffer from the virus and also make the infection milder. The BCG vaccine is administered to more than 130 million baby’s annually.