Meningitis breakthrough

News University News

A new meningitis vaccination to protect children against the most common form of meningitis has been recommended for approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The vaccine, to protect against meningitis B, from the drug firm Novartis is now set to be licensed in the next few months.

National governments across Europe will then consider introducing the vaccine into childhood immunisations programmes- such as how children in the UK currently receive the MMR vaccination. Babies from two months will be able to receive the jab.

Oxford University researchers were heavily involved in the vaccine’s development, and Professor Andrew Pollard, who heads the Oxford Vaccine Group said: “The licensure of a group B meningococcal vaccine is a big step forward towards the hope of controlling this devastating disease.”

Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitides and most often affects babies and young children. It causes a range of serious, life-threatening diseases including septicaemia and meningitis.

Overall, 1 in 10 cases results in death, while 1 in 5 survivors have permanent effects such as skin scars, limb amputations, hearing loss, seizures and brain damage.

Dr Snape of the University of Oxford, said: “We were delighted to hear the news that a new vaccine against meningitis will be licensed, having played a major part in this vaccine’s development.

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“The vaccine targets serogroup B meningococcus (MenB), a major cause of childhood meningitis in the UK and other industrialised countries. Given the disease most commonly targets young children, having been able to enrol large numbers of healthy children into these trials has been incredibly important for this vaccine’s development.

“Indeed, we administered the first dose of this vaccine ever given to a child just over 5 years ago. Seeing that the vaccine is now going to be licensed is very rewarding.”

The disease is notoriously difficult to spot in the early stages, and progressed very quickly- to a stage where treatment is far more difficult. Of the 13 types of the bacterium, with type B being the most common in the UK.

A vaccination against meningitis C was introduced in 1999, with the number of cases caused by the type C bacterium then dropping by 90% in vaccinated groups. There has also been a drop of 66% in non-vaccinated groups due to herd immunity. It is hoped that this new type B vaccination will produce the same results..

Type B infections now account for 90% of the cases of meningococcal disease following the success of the type C vaccination, and there have been only 2 deaths in children and young people under 20 in the last 5 years because of meningitis C, compared to 78 deaths the year before the vaccine was introduced.

Andrin Oswald, Division Head of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, which makes the vaccine called Bexsero, said: ‘We are proud of the major advance that Bexsero represents within the field of vaccine development against what up until now has been a very challenging disease target.

“For over two decades, our researchers and clinicians have been dedicated to finding a solution to prevent MenB disease. Our steadfast determination has been inspired by the testimonies from survivors and families who have lost loved ones to this disease.”

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