JUN 21, 2016 09:22 AM PDT

New vaccine offers better way to prevent pneumonia

Current vaccines target only a small percentage of the more than 90 strains of the bacteria that cause pneumonia. But researchers say a new protein-based vaccine can defend against many more strains—and that it’s 100 percent effective at promoting the appropriate immune response.
 

Image Credit: iStockphoto

Computer simulations indicate the vaccine would be effective against all strains of pneumococcus, but additional tests are needed to confirm that.

The vaccine offers what could be the most direct and broad response to preventing pneumonia—the leading cause of death of children under the age of 5 worldwide, according to the World Health Organization—as well as meningitis, sepsis, and other serious infections caused by pneumococcus.

“These are very serious illnesses that we haven’t been able to completely suppress. The vaccine we’re developing could finally get that job done,” says Blaine A. Pfeifer, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Pfeifer led the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with former student Charles H. Jones, who is overseeing efforts to commercialize the vaccine.

“With conventional vaccines, the approach has been: ‘What bacteria do we want to target and how,'” says Jones, CEO and founder of Abcombi Biosciences. “Our strategy is to shift the paradigm to which diseases do we want to prevent.”

To treat and prevent illnesses caused by pneumococcus, doctors almost exclusively relied on penicillin and other common antibiotics. While still used, the effectiveness of these drugs has been waning for decades due to bacteria developing antibiotic resistance.

The situation led pharmaceutical companies to develop preventative vaccines, which have reduced deaths and illnesses, especially in developed nations. But pneumococcus remains a serious problem.

Pneumonia killed 1.3 million people worldwide in 2011, with the majority of deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In the United States alone, pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis cause tens of thousands of deaths each year, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

One reason for this is that current vaccines, which identify pneumococcus by a sugar coating that surround the bacteria, are 56 to 88 percent effective.
 

Why this vaccine is different


The new vaccine identifies strains by proteins attached to the surface of pneumococcus. Laboratory tests show the vaccine can defend against more than 12 strains.

“It’s like the arcade game Whac-A-Mole. Think of the mallet as a traditional vaccine. It can’t stop all the moles, or in our case, all the strains of bacteria at once,” Jones says. “But our vaccine does just that. It’s like a mallet with 90 heads that strikes all the moles simultaneously.”

The new vaccine also differs from what’s on the market by its response to the bacteria.

Current vaccines teach the immune system to indiscriminately destroy bacteria and other pathogens. The approach works, but there is growing concern that it can create space within the body for new and potentially more harmful alternatives to establish residence—similar to antibiotic resistance resulting in new and more potent pathogens.

The new vaccine allows bacteria to exist as long as it causes no harm to body. It instructs the immune system to attack only when the surface proteins, mentioned above, break free of the bacterial coating.

“That’s the signal that this bacteria is becoming a troublemaker, that’s its threatening the body, and that it’s necessary to fight back,” Pfeifer says.

The National Institutes of Health, Swedish Medical Research Council, and the Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship Program at the University at Buffalo funded the work.

Source: University at Buffalo

This article was originally published on futurity.org.
About the Author
  • Futurity features the latest discoveries by scientists at top research universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The nonprofit site, which launched in 2009, is supported solely by its university partners (listed below) in an effort to share research news directly with the public.
You May Also Like
NOV 13, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 13, 2019
Increasing Evidence Shows Narcolepsy is an Autoimmune Illness
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder impacting as many as 200,000 people in the US, and is thought to often go undiagnosed....
NOV 13, 2019
Microbiology
NOV 13, 2019
In Space, Dormant Viruses Can Reactivate
Some astronauts have lived onboard the International Space Station for hundreds of days. Researchers are learning more about the things that can happen in that time....
NOV 13, 2019
Cardiology
NOV 13, 2019
Better Sleep, Brought To You By Exercise
Regular difficulty falling or staying asleep, called chronic insomnia, is the most common sleep disorder among adults. In the search for better, more restf...
NOV 13, 2019
Immunology
NOV 13, 2019
Diseases We Share with Our Canine Companions: Autoimmune Encephalitis in Dogs
Like humans, dogs can develop autoimmune encephalitis, and it’s common - mostly affecting smaller breeds and young adult dogs. Now scientists underst...
NOV 13, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 13, 2019
AI Exponentially Accelerates Drug Development
Research and development for new drugs is both an expensive and lengthy process, often lasting years, if not decades. With the development of artificial in...
NOV 13, 2019
Immunology
NOV 13, 2019
Algorithm Predicts Response to HIV Immunotherapy
Blood samples from HIV patients produced the data necessary for two scientists to build a mathematical model for predicting how HIV patients will respond t...
Loading Comments...