Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 01:01 UK

Meningitis B trials 'encouraging'

meningitis rash
There is no current vaccine against meningitis B

A possible vaccine against meningitis B has shown "encouraging" results in preliminary clinical trials.

The MenB vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Novartis was tested on 150 babies in the UK.

Thousands of deaths and disabilities are caused globally by meningitis B, but a vaccine is difficult to produce because of the many different strains.

Meningitis UK agreed the results were encouraging, but said there was a "long way to go" to produce a broad vaccine.

The meningitis B bacterium is incredibly complex and developing a vaccine to protect against it has always been one of the biggest challenges in meningitis vaccine development
Steve Dayman
Meningitis UK

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord.

Three vaccines against other common infections that cause meningitis are already given to babies as part of the childhood immunisation programme

Babies are immunised against Hib, pneumococcol and meningitis C in their first year of life.

But there is no readily available vaccination yet for meningitis B, which causes most of all cases.

Key antigens

Novartis examined 85 strains of meningitis B while developing the potential vaccine.

This could be the beginning of getting a solution for meningitis B
Professor David Salisbury
Director of immunisation, Department of Health

The vaccine contains bacterial proteins - or antigens - that are believed to be found in most meningitis B strains responsible for the disease globally.

Dr Ray Borrow, head of the vaccine evaluation department at Manchester Royal Infirmary, helped organise the study.

He said: "The preliminary results tell us that the vaccine is likely to kill strains that contain the vaccine's antigens."

The children were immunised at two, four and six months of age, and received a fourth dose at 12 months.

The vaccine's immune response was tested against three strains of meningitis B.

The results showed that one month after the third dose the immune response against the three strains was 89%, 96% and 85%.

A fourth dose given at 12 months of age resulted in the children receiving an immune response of 100%, 98% and 93%.


Dr Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, who helped run the study, said these initial results were encouraging.

"These initial results from the UK show that the vaccine induces an immune response against strains containing the vaccine components. The next step is to find how broad these responses are against other strains that cause disease."

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said this is exciting news.

"We have vaccinations against three of the four causes of bacterial meningitis. The one we have been waiting for is meningitis B. It has been a challenge for the past 20 years.

"This could be the beginning of getting a solution for meningitis B. The challenge has been to find a vaccine that works across different strains of the disease.

"This offers the possibility of protecting against a wide group of strains."

More work needed

Steve Dayman, chief executive of Meningitis UK, agreed this is an encouraging development.

But he added: "We would like to stress that it is vital that research continues as there is still a long way to go to reach a meningitis B vaccine which provides broad coverage against all strains.

"The meningitis B bacterium is incredibly complex and developing a vaccine to protect against it has always been one of the biggest challenges in meningitis vaccine development.

"When developing a vaccine, there are so many avenues that need to be explored and sadly the vast majority of approaches will fail at some stage."

Meningitis C used to be one of the most common types of meningitis in the UK. But since a routine immunisation was introduced in 1999, thousands of deaths have been prevented.

A vaccine for meningitis B has been in use for sometime in Cuba, but is not widely available, and remains untested in the UK.

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