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Kirby Institute awarded $5.5M in NHMRC clinical trials funding

News | Published on 31 Jul 2023 by Samantha Hayes

Three Kirby Institute initiatives have secured a total of $5.5 million in funding through the highly competitive National Health and Medical Research Council Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies grants scheme.

Projects aiming to improve the long-term health of people living with HIV, fight neglected tropical diseases and eliminate the transmission of HIV are among those to receive NHMRC funding.


New drug to treat river blindness

A team led by Associate Professor Susana Vaz Nery from the Kirby Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health has been awarded $3.3 million for 'Moxidectin versus ivermectin as mass drug administration for the control of onchocerciasis and other neglected tropical diseases: a cluster-randomised trial'.

Moxidectin is a new drug approved to treat river blindness, a disease affecting poor, rural communities in low- and middle-income countries. Trials have shown that moxidectin has advantages over existing drugs in the treatment of river blindness and other parasitic diseases.

“We will take the next step by conducting a randomised controlled trial in Angola, on the west coast of southern Africa, to evaluate the public health role of moxidectin. This means that instead of only recruiting patients infected with the parasite we will use moxidectin in a mass drug administration program, treating all residents in an endemic area,” A/Prof Nery said.

“This is a key strategy for control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. However, new agents are needed to reach control and elimination targets. Moxidectin could have a game-changing role in the control of globally important diseases.”

The trial will be done with collaborators from the Angola Ministry of Health, The Mentor Initiative, Emory University, Medicines Development for Global Health, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, University of Melbourne, La Trobe University, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Ottawa, Erasmus University Medical Center, Center for Research on Filariasis & other Tropical Diseases and The END Fund.

Eliminating the transmission of HIV

Kirby Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Nicholas Medland Kirby Institute has been awarded $1,226,418  to evaluate the  population-level effectiveness of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis in elimination of transmission of HIV in gay and bisexual men in Australia”.

HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily tablet which is highly effective in preventing HIV infection.  Medland’s trial will measure PrEP use and HIV diagnoses in more than 100,000 gay and bisexual men , the group most affected by HIV, over a 14-year period, to assess the best ways to use PrEP for the elimination of HIV transmission.

“Australia has recently received international recognition as one of the first countries to virtually eliminate HIV transmission in gay and bisexual men. Australia has the key health systems and prevention tools needed to eliminate the transmission of HIV and is committed to do so. PrEP is shown to be highly effective in clinical trials. However, what is not yet known is whether our current strategy to encourage PrEP use in affected populations will be completely successful in reaching those goals or whether new strategic approaches will be required. This study will allow us to track our progress and fine tune the efforts to eliminate HIV transmission to ensure that we achieve this momentous outcome.” says Dr Medland.

“PrEP has been prescribed to more than 60,000 people since it was first PBS subsidised in Australia in 2018. However,  overall community use of PrEP is increasing gradually, and inequalities have emerged.”

Dr Medland’s research team will use routinely collected data from more than 100 health services already participating in a national research/surveillance network to determine the long-term effectiveness of PrEP on HIV incidence among gay and bisexual men.

Findings from the study will inform global policy and practice, in a range of settings where PrEP is being recommended for HIV prevention. Nationally, this research will help identify gaps in Australia’s strategy, without which targets will not be met.

The trial will be done with collaborators from the Burnet Institute, University of New South Wales, Monash University, Sydney Sexual Health Centre and RPA Sexual Health, Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, Gold Coast Health Sexual Health Service.


Advancing long-term health prospects for people living with HIV

Professor Kathy Petoumenos from the Kirby Institute and UNSW Medicine & Health has received $983,939 for improving the long-term health in people living with HIV: The Respond Study. People with HIV are living longer and now experiencing age-related health conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

Through the global RESPOND study which incorporates Australia, Europe and South America, Professor Petoumenos will investigate the impact of longer-term antiretroviral (ARV) exposure on chronic health conditions.

“We welcome this funding from the NHMRC. It will help us continue our important work assessing long-term chronic disease outcomes in people living with HIV” says Prof Petoumenos.

Read more about the 2022 NHMRC Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies grant scheme funding.