A new Griffith University study aims to develop drugs to treat alphavirus infection such as Ross River, Chikungunya, O’nyong’nyong and Mayaro viruses which cause debilitating and chronic arthritis.

Professor Suresh Mahalingam

Professor Suresh Mahalingam

Led by Professor Suresh Mahalingam, head of the Research Group for Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics at Menzies Health Institute Queensland, the $905,080 National Health and Medical Research Council-funded study will focus on understanding how arthritogenic alphaviruses cause chronic inflammation and joint pain in humans.

“These viruses are transmitted by mosquitoes and continue to expand their global distribution, with 1.3 billion people around the world at risk of chikungunya virus infection. Climate change is expected to enhance the emergence of chikungunya virus in new geographic locations, mainly due to expansion of mosquito populations’’ Professor Mahalingam said.

He said Ross River virus was already endemic in parts of Australia and there was a serious risk of chikungunya spreading to Australia as the mosquito species responsible for its transmission is prevalent across large stretches of the continent.

“This project will enable us to collaborate with clinicians in Australia, Asia and South America to obtain clinical samples,’’ he said.

“We will also collaborate with pharmaceutical companies to discover new treatments for chronic alphavirus disease using drugs already approved in the market for treatment of other inflammatory conditions.

“We want to identify drugs suitable for clinical trials of chronic arthritogenic alphavirus infection.”

Dr Adam Taylor

Dr Adam Taylor

Professor Mahalingam and Dr Adam Taylor were also recently successful in obtaining an NHMRC Development Grant – A new vaccine to protect against Chikungunya virus causing chronic musculoskeletal diseases) – to complete pre-clinical development of its patented vaccine for chikungunya virus infection.

The $1,068,696 grant will enable them to further develop the vaccine.

“Successful completion of this work will lead to a commercial co-development agreement with a major international pharmaceutical company and progression to clinical trials,’’ Professor Mahalingam said.

“There are currently no chikungunya vaccines on the market, and successful development of a vaccine will be a major advance in global health. The long-term impact will result from developing a world-first vaccine for protection against all chikungunya strains.

The vaccine will be effective with just a single dose, which is particularly desirable in many of the countries with a high prevalence of chikungunya virus”.

In addition to these recent grant successes, Professor Mahalingam has recently been invited to join the International Advisory Board of the prestigious journal Lancet Infectious Diseases. In this position, he will provide advice to the journal on emerging virus infections around the globe. The invitation reflects his research achievements in this field over the past 15 years.