Meningitis test drug could save thousands of children
Child health experts yesterday hailed the success of a medical trial that could lead to the widespread vaccination of children against deadly meningitis B.
Data presented by pharmaceutical giant Novartis revealed that a large majority of infants given a new test drug achieved a robust immune response against strains of the disease.
Charity Meningitis UK said that the results could eventually lead to a vaccine that would save the lives of thousands of children.
Meningitis B is the most common form of the disease, causing up to 80pc of cases in the UK. It is also one of the most deadly, with symptoms that can kill within 24 to 48 hours of onset.
But due to its complex nature, it has been the hardest to immunise against.
There are no widespread vaccines in existence. Scientists examining the potential of Novartis's Multicomponent Meningococal Serogroup B Vaccine (4CMenB) against the disease, gave injections to 3,600 infants as part of an ongoing trial.
They found that the large majority of babies displayed a robust immune response against three strains of meningitis B causing bacteria. In addition, it was seen to be have an acceptably low level of adverse reaction when given in conjunction with other infant vaccines. This suggests it could be used as a vaccine in the first year of life -- when it is most needed.
Dr Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at Oxford University, said: "Meningitis B can be devastating for affected families and is a major concern for paediatricians who care for children with this serious illness.
"The disease can strike healthy children without warning and, in some countries, is the leading infectious cause of death in early life.
"Many cases of meningitis are prevented today by the vaccines we give to our children, but the more complex meningitis B remains as a major threat to public health.
"The encouraging data presented on 4CMenB indicate the potential for additional protection to be provided by this new vaccine."
Paul Langford, chair of Meningitis UK's Scientific Advisory Panel, said: "The latest results from this study are very encouraging and we hope these promising developments will ultimately lead to a meningitis B vaccine that will be given to children in this country."
"If the promise shown by this vaccine can be translated to the clinic . . . there is the prospect of elimination of most meningococcal disease from the UK and saving thousands of lives in the future."