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Meningitis B vaccine close to EU licence

14th June 2011

The Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis hopes to bring to market in Europe a new vaccine for meningitis B, which causes meningococcal disease, by the end of this year.

Vaccination1

The vaccine is said to offer 80% protection against the bacterial infection, which causes around 1,600 cases of meningococcal disease and 120 deaths annually in the UK alone.

The breakthrough vaccine now means that meningitis could be virtually eliminated.

Bacterial meningitis can strike in minutes and kill in just hours, and experts have hailed the results of recent trials of the vaccine as very encouraging.

The disease is extremely frightening to parents because it has a 10% mortality rate and can result in permanent disabilities for survivors that include neurological problems, deafness and the loss of limbs and fingers.

A vaccination against meningitis C, which was introduced into the UK in November 1999, is estimated to have prevented 1,000 deaths. Health officials now say the disease has been virtually eliminated.

Meningitis B is the more common strain of the disease, accounting for around 90% of remaining cases.

The new vaccine, known as 4CMenB, performed well in three trials on more than 3,000 infants, toddlers and adolescents.

The results were presented to experts at the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases in The Hange, and show that the vaccine produces a robust immune response with few side-effects.

It was found to give protection against 80% of the 1,000 strains of the disease that are currently circulating in Europe.

Manufacturer Novartis expects to be given a licence by the European Medicines Agency at the end of 2011.

The current meningitis C vaccine costs around £23 (US$37) to confer full immunity, and the meningitis B vaccine took much longer and required more resources to develop.

But UK officials say the vaccine was no more costly than other vaccines to develop.

One in 10 people carry the meningitis bacterium in their noses and throats without coming to any harm, but can occasionally erupt into an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain, causing life-threatening illness.

The factors that trigger the disease are not fully understood.

If the bacterium gets into the bloodstream it can cause meningococcal septicaemia, which can lead to organ failure and death.

Researchers used a technique known as "reverse vaccinology" to develop the 4CMenB vaccine, which uses the decoded genome of a single strain of the bacterium to yield proteins from which the vaccine was constructed.

Then, they used genetic engineering to pick out the proteins that did the best job of stimulating the immune system.



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