Touching Lives - October 2010
Leading researchers develop novel vaccine
It is estimated that worldwide over 1.5 million people die from diseases caused by the bacterium pneumococcus every year. Meningitis, pneumonia and septicaemia are among the serious infections that contribute to these deaths – up to one million are children under five.
Antibiotics can kill the pneumococcus – although the bacteria are becoming resistant to common medication – but even those who respond to treatment can be left with lifelong disabilities.
While vaccines exist for these diseases, they are not always effective, especially for very young children. There are about 90 different types of pneumococcus and vaccines use parts of certain sugars that are only present in some.
Two pneumococcus specialists are collaborating with a doctor from one of the biggest children’s hospitals in Europe to develop a more effective vaccine in the lab. Dr Qibo Zhang, who has a successful history of researching the body’s response to the bacterium, world-leading expert in the pneumococcus Professor Timothy Mitchell and Dr Paul McNamara from the Institute of Child Health at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital comprise the team working on the two-year study.
Their vaccine will contain part of a protein found in nearly all types of pneumococcus, potentially providing broader protection, and it will take the form of a nasal spray to target the immune tissues in the upper airways where the infections tend to start. The researchers believe this could be a major improvement to existing vaccines that are usually administered in the arm.
The researchers hope their work could lead to clinical trials for the new vaccine, which they believe could be less expensive than current options.