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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Trials for meningitis B vaccine
Vaccination
Scientists hope a new jab will eliminate meningitis
Human trials have started into a new vaccine which it is hoped will bring an end to all meningitis deaths.

The vaccine is the first designed to be effective against all forms of the meningococcal B strain - one of the leading causes of meningitis deaths in the developed world.

Scientists hope that when the new vaccine is combined with the already proven jab against meningitis C it will make death from meningitis virtually a thing of the past.

A spokesman for Baxter International Inc, the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the vaccine said: "A combination of the two conjugate vaccines for groups B and C would prevent virtually all cases of meningococcal disease in Europe."


The C vaccine has made a huge impact with many lives being saved. However, B cases continue to rise and we look forward to a vaccine being available

Spokeswoman from National Meningitis Trust

The Department of Health first introduced a vaccine against the C strain in November 1999.

In its first year alone at least 50 lives were saved by the jab and about 450 less severe cases prevented.

Vaccinating

Scientists also found that their wide-scale immunisation programmes prevented the regular university outbreaks.

But experts warned that successfully fighting meningitis C could lead to more cases of the B strain of the bug.

Meningitis B now accounts for one in six meningitis cases in the UK and the figure is rising.

This latest break through in beating the disease was announced at a European vaccine manufacturers' conference in Lucerne, in Switzerland.

The Belgian trial will be aimed mainly at testing the safety of the drug and then there will be larger trials to look at how effective it is.

The vaccine is a "conjugate" type, which means that it protects against a wide range of sub-strains.

Dr Peter Fusco, senior director of microbiology and immunology at Baxter said the vaccine was expected to be effective across the age groups.

Laboratory tests have already shown it to be very effective at stimulating the immune system to produce anti-bodies to destroy the meningococcal B bacteria.

Bacterial meningitis has killed between 150 to 200 people each year in the UK over the last decade - about one in ten of the total number of cases.

A spokeswoman for the National Meningitis Trust said even though the trials were at an early stage that they did offer hope that one day there wouldl be an effective vaccine.

"Obviously these trials are at a very early stage and there is still a long way to go before the production of a vaccine against group B meningococci.

"The C vaccine has made a huge impact with many lives being saved. However , B cases continue to rise and we look forward to a vaccine being available."

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See also:

06 Jan 01 | Scotland
New bid to beat meningitis C
03 Jan 01 | Health
Brain disease 'wiped out'
03 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: Meningitis vaccine success
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