SCIENTISTS in Scotland are aiming to develop the world's first vaccine against Strep A infections.

Researchers at a spinout company linked to Dundee University believe that they can drive down the costs of creating so-called glycoconjugate vaccines, paving the way to an affordable vaccine against Strep A as well as other human and animal diseases.

The spinout, Rhapseda, was founded by Dr Helge Dorfmueller of Dundee’s School of Life Sciences.

Its pioneering technology makes use of new processes that have been developed for the creation of glycoconjugate vaccines, where a carbohydrate molecule produced by the target bacteria is delivered using a protein carrier.

The technique has been shown to achieve stronger T cell immunity in order to provide longer lasting protection against serious disease, and has been used already to create meningitis and pneumonia vaccines, but it is also expensive.

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The Rhapseda platform is more efficient, meaning that it should drive down costs and enable the development of the world’s first affordable Strep A vaccine.

Gillian Brown, the Dundee University-appointed commercial champion for Rhapseda, said it offered "a step change in glycoconjugate vaccine development" which offers "scope to develop a range of affordable vaccines, including Strep A".

She added: “Our ambition is to build a global vaccine development business in Dundee, creating high-value employment in a company with international reach. We are already developing significant commercial and scientific relationships across the globe from Europe to the US and South Korea.

"We look forward to building on these relationships this year and bringing international investment into vaccine development in Scotland.” in 2021 to drive opportunities with the aim of spinning out officially in 2024. "

HeraldScotland: *Upper respiratory tract GAS isolates are used as a proxy for scarlet fever infection in Scotland*Upper respiratory tract GAS isolates are used as a proxy for scarlet fever infection in Scotland (Image: PHS)

Currently the only treatments for a Strep A infection are antibiotics, but there is evidence that the bacteria is becoming resistant to some of the drugs - such as azithromycin - which are used to treat strep throat in people allergic to penicillin.

In most people, an infection with the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria will cause only mild illness characterised by a very sore throat.

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It can lead to impetigo, scarlet fever, or tonsillitis, however, and in very rare cases to a potentially deadly invasive form of the disease - known iGAS - where the bacteria enters the bloodstream.

Since October last year, there have been 17 iGAS deaths in Scotland - including three in children under 10.

HeraldScotland: Reported iGAS cases in children under 10 in Scotland were much higher than normal in December and the beginning of JanuaryReported iGAS cases in children under 10 in Scotland were much higher than normal in December and the beginning of January (Image: PHS)

This is higher than in previous years, but comes amid a substantial surge in both iGAS and scarlet fever cases during December which has been blamed on reduced exposure during the pandemic years.

At its height, Public Health Scotland detected more than 1000 upper respiratory GAS cases - a proxy for scarlet fever - in a single week, compared to pre-Covid peaks of between 160 and 270 from 2016 to 2019.

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Leah Pape, head of high growth services at Scottish Enterprise - which has provided funding to Rhapseda - said its work "could revolutionise the way infections like Strep A are treated".

She added: “The company has strong global growth potential, the ability to generate high-value employment for Scotland and is a fantastic asset for the Tay Cities region.”

Dundee's bioeconomy - particularly its Life Sciences Innovation District - are seen as key to delivering jobs and growth in the city.

Professor Sir Mike Ferguson, co-lead of the Growing the Tay Cities Biomedical Cluster project, said it would attract other companies into the region.

He added: "We can expect a significant boost to our local economy."