New vaccine against deadly meningitis B 'will be available in the spring'
Meningitis B causes 120 deaths in Britain each yearVaccine effective against about 80 per cent of strains found in Europe
A new vaccine against meningitis B gives full protection to teenagers, according to the first large-scale trial and could be available this Spring.
There is currently no vaccine to protect against Meningococcal B in this country.
It is the most common form of bacterial meningitis and the toughest challenge for scientists because there are so many strains to target.
Breakthrough: New meningitis B jab – effective against 80 per cent of strains found in Europe – could be approved for use by the spring (pictured posed by model)
It is one of the diseases most feared by parents because it is hard to diagnose and swift to kill.
Latest research findings on the 4CMenB vaccine show two doses produces an immune response in almost 100 per cent of adolescents.
Previous data found similar levels of protection in infants, suggesting the vaccine could guard against about 80 per cent of 1,000 meningitis B strains found in Europe.
Manufacturers Novartis applied to the European regulatory authorities for a licence a year ago, and it could be approved as early as this Spring.
Jab: New injection could stop dozens of infants being killed by meningitis each year
The vaccine could dramatically cut the toll of infants and children dying from the disease or struggling with lifelong disabilities.
In a new study, conducted in Chile, different doses of 4CMenB were given to 1,631 teenagers, says a report in The Lancet medical journal.
The results show two to three doses generated an immune response, indicating protection, in almost 100 per cent of those getting the active vaccine rather an inactive placebo.
Researchers from the University of Chile said the ‘pivotal study’ showed two doses of vaccine given even six months apart produced a protective response.
Previous trials on the vaccine found similar levels of response from the vaccine in adults and children.
Meningococcal B is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in the UK and the toughest challenge for scientists because there are so many strains to target.
Although vaccination programmes have been successfully introduced to combat pneumococcal meningitis and the strains C and Hib, no B vaccine currently exists in this country.
The new vaccine was developed using so-called ‘reverse vaccinology’, decoding the genome sequence of meningitis B and selecting proteins most likely to be broadly-effective vaccine candidates.
It could be given to babies from the age of two months in three doses, with a booster at one year.
There are more than 1,200 cases of meningitis B in the UK each year, resulting in some 120 deaths – half of which occur in the under fives.
Around 250 children are left with serious life-long complications such as limb amputations, blindness, deafness and brain damage.
Although meningitis B vaccines have been developed against single strains, for example in Cuba and New Zealand, Britain needs a multistrain jab.
After licensing the Government’s independent advisers, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, will decide whether to recommend routine use of the new vaccine for infants and children on the NHS.
They will look at its efficacy and safety, while the cost implications are considered by the Department of Health.
When meningitis C vaccine was added to the childhood programme it was accompanied by a catch-up plan for teenagers and young adults in a bid to increase immunity within the population most at risk.
This in turn reduces transmission of the meningitis bugs in the community, reducing the risk to all ages.
Dr Myron Christodoulides, chair of Meningitis UK’s Scientific Medical Panel and expert in microbiology and infection at the University of Southampton, said ‘Previous studies have shown that 4CMenB has the potential to provide significant protection when administered to infants. This new study shows that the vaccine could also be highly protective in the adolescent age group.
‘However, there are still a number of important questions to be answered such as how many strains it will protect against, how long the protection will last and whether it will stop the bacteria from being passed on to others, providing indirect protection to those not vaccinated.’
Steve Dayman, founder of Meningitis UK who lost his own son Spencer to the disease in 1982, said ‘It is extremely encouraging that the vaccine could provide almost 100 per cent protection to adolescents.
‘Behind the under-fives, teenagers are the next most at-risk from this disease. Meningitis can kill in hours and we have seen first-hand the devastation this disease can cause people. If introduced, this vaccine will be the first of its kind and could save thousands of lives but it is vital that research continues to develop improved vaccine strategies.’
Pharmaceutical company, Pfizer is also in the process of developing a Meningitis B vaccine to protect teenagers.