UK Prix Galien: Meningitis vaccine shortlisted

The finalists in this year’s UK Prix Galien awards include a number of candidates which – in addition to impressive clinical credentials – also promise to tackle some important public health issues. This second article in our series looking at some of the shortlisted candidates focuses on Novartis’ meningococcal B vaccine Bexsero.

Few infections will strike as much fear into a parent as bacterial meningitis, which kills one in 10 patients in the UK and leaves another two coping with after effects such as deafness, limb loss and brain damage.

Most cases of meningococcal disease in the UK are now caused by group B meningococcal bacteria since the introduction of a vaccine for the other major form – meningitis C – in the late 1990s resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of people exposed.

Last year, Novartis secured European Commission approval for a meningococcal B vaccine called Bexsero which became the vaccine licensed to protect all age groups, including infants aged over two months, in the EU.

“The development of the vaccine was a major achievement and took decades to achieve”

The development of the vaccine was a major achievement and took decades to achieve, mainly because the outer coat of the meningococcal B bacteria does not trigger an immune response and resembles developing human brain cells.

The development of Bexsero hinged on not only finding other elements on the bacterial surface that were visible to the immune system, but also ensuring those elements were found on multiple strains. Novartis’ vaccine is predicted to protect a little under 90 per cent of the strains circulating in the UK.

Bexsero was recommended for all babies by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in February 2014 – after being left off the national immunisation programme the previous year – although the timetable for introducing it has not been set out yet and pricing negotiations between Novartis and the UK government continue.

“For meningitis B, there is no prevention offered by the NHS so the strategy is treatment of those children and adults who get the disease, and support for survivors who are left with disability,” according to Dr John Porter, medical affairs director at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Ltd.

“Vaccination against meningococcal disease was recognised as an important way to reduce the disparity”

In a recent Lancet paper reviewing the higher-than-average child mortality in the UK compared to other Western countries, vaccination against meningococcal disease was recognised as an important way to reduce the disparity, he told pharmaphorum.

“As a paediatrician I have seen the impact of vaccination on Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and meningococcus C diseases both of which used to kill significant numbers of children,” he continued.

“It would be great to see meningococcal B disease go the same way.”

Outside the UK, Bexsero is starting to be introduced into routine vaccination programmes. For instance, in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean region of Canada the vaccine is offered to all from two months to 20 years of age. According to a recent report, 81 per cent of the target population was vaccinated with Bexsero in the first three months of the campaign.

The chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) charity, Chris Head, said that making Bexsero available in the UK immunisation programme would “save lives and spare countless families the trauma of seeing a loved one seriously disabled by the devastating after effects of meningitis B.”

Novartis will shortly be handing over the Bexsero vaccine to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which agreed to acquire that product and the rest of the Swiss drugmaker’s vaccines business as part of an asset swap deal agreed earlier this year. In return for the vaccines unit Novartis is receiving GSK’s oncology R&D assets.

The 2014 UK Prix Galien will take place on 1 October at the House of Commons, London. The Rt. Hon. Sir Kevin Barron, MP, former shadow health minister and chair of several all-party parliamentary groups relating to the pharmaceutical industry and health, will be the Parliamentary Sponsor. More on the history of the awards is available via the link below.

Further information on the UK Prix Galien is available here.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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