Preventing meningitis is a major healthcare goal. Infection is rapid but early detection is difficult, by which time the impact can include disability due to damage to the brain, surrounded by the meninges, through to death. This is particularly a problem in infants, the most vulnerable group, as carers often only recognise external symptoms once an infection is well-advanced.
The bacterial pathogen Neisseria meningitidis is a major cause of meningitis and most disease is caused by five serogroups: A, B, C, Y and W-135. Most recently, the successful development of a vaccine for meningitis C has dramatically reduced the overall incidence of meningitis, now only leaving serogroup B (NmB) without a protective vaccine. Difficulties arise because the serogroup B polysaccharide coat structure is also found in humans, unlike other serogroups, so a vaccine cannot target the coating. In addition, most countries have multiple strains of NmB in circulation and hence a vaccine protective against NmB irrespective of strain is required.
ImmunoBiology ("ImmBio") is developing a new approach to vaccines using Heat shock protein Complexes ("HspCs TM"). These appropriately deliver multiple antigens to dendritic cells, hence eliciting a broad and safe protective immune response. ImmBio leads a consortium composed of meningitis researchers in the School of Medical Sciences University of Bristol and ERA Consulting Ltd and working closely with the Health Protection Agency. The consortium is partly supported by a bioprocess development grant from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board.
A poster presentation at the 16th International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference in Rotterdam highlights successful progress to date. HspC vaccine derived from N. meningitidis strain MC58 induced antibodies that mediate the uptake of a diverse panel of NmB strains by human phagocytic cells in a pre-clinical study. Though with development work still required, this is a very encouraging and significant step in the search for a broadly-protective vaccine.