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Published on 13 December 2012

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Development of a novel vaccine against meningococcal bacteria

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University of Oxford-based research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, supports development of a novel vaccine against meningococcal bacteria based on a protein called Opa.(1) Opacity-associated adhesin (Opa) proteins form the outer membrane of meningococcal bacteria (Neisseria meningitidis).
Dr Manish Sadarangani led the investigations, funded by children’s charity Action Medical Research. He is now a Clinical Lecturer at the University of Oxford.
Meningococcal bacteria are the leading cause of childhood meningitis and septicaemia in the UK.  The deadly bacteria can kill within only a few hours, around one in ten of those it infects.(2) Survivors can be left with permanent complications, like deafness, epilepsy and learning disabilities. Some have to have fingers, toes and limbs amputated causing lifelong difficulties.
There are various types of meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W and Y – for which vaccines are available. But there is currently no licensed vaccine that protects against all strains of meningococcal serogroup B (MenB).
A new vaccine (Bexsero) against MenB bacteria has been in the news recently and is expected to be licensed shortly. Optimism surrounds this new vaccine that will help control some of the disease caused by MenB; unfortunately though it will not cover all strains.
New approaches are still needed to ensure that meningitis caused by MenB becomes history and this work funded by Action Medical Research has provided new insight into the potential for full control.
Dr Sadarangani says: “The trouble is that within MenB there are many different strains. One of the factors that is often shared between different strains is a protein called Opa. We have been testing and analysing Opa to see if we can use it to develop a vaccine that will protect against most of the strains of MenB.”
“These results move us one step further in developing Opa as a MenB vaccine to protect children from meningitis and septicaemia.”
Dr Sadarangani completed a three-year Research Training Fellowship (RTF) in 2010, funded by Action Medical Research, studying meningitis at the University of Oxford. He has been working as a member of the Oxford Vaccine Group – the largest academic group undertaking research in children’s vaccines in Europe.
Dr Sadarangani, who worked in accident and emergency as a trainee doctor, said: “I remember a two-year-old who came in with cold symptoms and a slight fever. The parents were told the child probably had a cold and not to worry. The next day the same child came back in, completely covered with a rash, and died a few hours later.
 
“Unfortunately the symptoms of meningitis can be similar to those of other conditions and sometimes, no matter what happens, you can’t save them. That’s why I believe so passionately in preventing infections through vaccination.”
References
  1. Sadarangani M, PLOS ONE http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051045
  2. Trotter C, Samuelsson S, Perrocheau A, de Greeff S, de Melker H, Heuberger S, Ramsay M. Ascertainment of meningococcal disease in Europe. Euro Surveill. 2005 Dec;10(12):247-50.


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