Hope for Meningitis B vaccine

19 November 2012

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A vaccine against the commonest strain of meningitis has been given the go ahead by the European Medicines Agency.

Developed by a collaboration including researchers at the Oxford Martin Programme on Vaccines, the vaccine Bexsero is designed to protect against meningococcal group B disease, known as MenB.

Doctors and meningitis campaigners hope to see children in the UK immunised with this new vaccine by the end of next year. "The licensure of a group B meningococcal vaccine is a big step forwards towards the hope of controlling this devastating disease," said Professor Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group at Oxford University, which helped develop the vaccine, and Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Vaccines.

MenB accounts for up to 90% of all meningococcal disease cases in some European countries and causes death in one in ten cases of the disease. Not only that, MenB is easily misdiagnosed, can kill within 24 hours and may cause serious, life-long disabilities including brain damage, hearing impairment and limb loss. The highest rates of MenB occur in the first year of life.

The vaccine, made by Novartis, now awaits licensing by The European Commission. Before its introduction in the UK it will also need approval from the government's advisory joint committee on vaccination and immunisation. Bexsero is intended for use in all age groups starting with babies aged two months and above, the age group at the greatest risk of infection.

Bexsero is the result of more than 20 years of pioneering vaccine research. MenB has been a particularly challenging target because the outer coating of the bacteria is not well recognized as an antigen by the immune system, making it especially difficult to develop a broadly effective vaccine until recent scientific developments.

Bexsero was developed using an award-winning scientific approach that involved decoding the genetic makeup (genome sequence) of MenB. This innovative approach provides the foundation for a new generation of vaccines that can help prevent other diseases with a significant diversity of disease-causing strains.