Archive for June, 2011

Scientists report as many as 20 new vaccines could be coming in the next decade

Friday, June 10th, 2011 (last updated)

A group of scientists writing in The Lancet report that the development of 20 new or improved vaccines in the next decade is possible and that funding along with trust and confidence in vaccines is crucial.

The key areas the scientists identify for their research is AIDS and malaria vaccines, but they also mention the investigation of neglected tropical diseases like leprosy. Professor Richard Moxon of Oxford University came up with the idea to create a series of papers looking at the future of vaccine research: “We need to find the requisite funds for the research and development of about 20 improved or novel vaccines in the next decade or beyond.”

“This call to action comes at a crucial time. In some communities, recent declines in vaccine uptake provide a stark reminder that public confidence and trust in immunization is fragile and requires attention.” Moxon said that it is sometimes surprising that the public is not always comfortable with immunization, despite a very positive history of effectiveness.

“It’s complex,” Moxon said. “Perhaps one of the things that’s most important is that vaccines are given to healthy people – often children. Safety issues loom very large because there’s very little awareness of many of the diseases that have been prevented by vaccines, such as polio and whooping cough.”

The authors called on developing countries to shoulder more responsibility for funding vaccination programs. An effort will be made during a meeting on Monday to raise money for immunization programs over the next four years.

“Most developing countries accord too low a priority to health in their budgets,” the authors wrote. “They must be persuaded to take more of the burden themselves on behalf of their poorer citizens.”

GlaxoSmithKline to cut rotavirus vaccine price by 95 percent for poorest countries

Monday, June 6th, 2011 (last updated)

GSK today announced that it has made a new offer to supply its rotavirus vaccine, RotarixTM, to the GAVI Alliance at $2.50 per dose (approximate 95% reduction to Western market price). This announcement is part of the company’s efforts to increase access to its medicines and vaccines in the world’s poorest countries. It is estimated that more than half a million children die of rotavirus gastroenteritis each year – the equivalent of a child a minute worldwide – and it is responsible for the hospitalization of millions more.

Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, urged other pharmaceutical companies to follow suit and said the price cut was not a gimmick or one-time philanthropic gesture. The company said that it intends to use profits made in wealthier countries to subsidize drugs for poorer nations, selling them at a price that covers just the cost of production.

“Whilst most babies in the world will get rotavirus at some point, those in developing countries do not have access to the medical care they need which means millions of babies die unnecessarily. GSK is committed to playing its part in addressing the healthcare challenges faced by world’s poorest countries. By working in partnership with others including governments, international agencies, NGOs and developing countries, we can find innovative ways to accelerate access to vaccines t

6 months ago: Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

Sunday, June 5th, 2011 (last updated)

Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor, and his colleagues scared parents worldwide and spurred an anti-vaccine backlash in a study that was an “elaborate fraud,” the British medical journal reported Wednesday. (5 January 2011)

As a result of Wakefield’s study, some parents stopped immunizing their children for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), and measles outbreaks have surged in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.

Meningitis Research Foundation: download centre

Saturday, June 4th, 2011 (last updated)

The Meningitis Research Foundation produces an extensive range of freely available materials for 1) the general public, 2) people affected by meningitis and/or septicaemia, 3) health professionals in primary care and 4) health professionals in the hospital setting.

All the materials have been developed in consultation with experts in the respective fields and have been pre-tested or evaluated by the specific group at which the resource is aimed. You can download the material by clicking on the image of the resource at:

Note that these resources were written for a UK audience and therefore reflect the health services and systems in that country.

Pertussis epidemic: vaccinate your children & yourself

Saturday, June 4th, 2011 (last updated)

Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is a highly contagious disease involving the respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, which is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person.

Pertussis can occur at any age. Severe illness is more common in very young children that have not been immunized. Adults with pertussis have milder symptoms. A diagnosis of pertussis should be considered for adults with persistent cough, to ensure they do not pass on the infection. Currently the main reason for susceptibility to pertussis in adolescents and adults is that immunity has waned since the last pertussis immunization was given before kindergarten.

Despite successful infant vaccination program, pertussis is not yet optimally controlled and remains endemic in many countries. Pertussis outbreaks occurred recently in several schools in Europe despite high vaccination coverage. Extending the use of pertussis vaccinations for older children, adults and adolescents should reduce the circulation of Bordetella pertussis disease in that age group and provide continuous protection against pertussis throughout life.

Therapeutic melanoma vaccine improves progression-free survival

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 (last updated)

A vaccine for one of the most lethal cancers, advanced melanoma, has improved response rate and progression-free survival for patients when combined with the immunotherapy drug Interleukin-2, according to research led by scientists from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Indiana University Health Goshen Center for Cancer Care.

The findings, published in the June 2 New England Journal of Medicine, mark the first vaccine study in the disease — and one of the first in cancer overall — to show clinical benefit in a randomized Phase III clinical trial. It’s also the first cancer vaccine to show an improved response rate in patients.

According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma has one of the fastest growing incidence rates of all cancers. In 2010, more than 68,130 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with melanoma and 8,700 died from the disease. The five-year survival rates for those with regional and metastatic disease are 65 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

“Obviously, this is a disease, in its advanced setting, in need of better therapies for patients,” said Patrick Hwu, M.D., professor and Chair of the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology and the study’s senior author. “This study serves as a proof-of-principle for the role of vaccines in melanoma and in cancer therapy overall. If we can use the body’s own defense system to attack tumor cells, we provide a mechanism for ridding the body of cancer without destroying healthy tissue.”

The peptide vaccine, known as gp100:209-217 (200M), works by stimulating patients’ T cells, known for controlling immune responses. “This vaccine activates the body’s cytotoxic T cells to recognize antigens on the surface of the tumor. The T cells then secrete enzymes that poke holes in the tumor cell’s membrane, causing it to disintegrate,” explained Schwartzentruber, the study’s principal investigator and corresponding author.

The study found that patients with advanced metastatic melanoma who received the vaccine had a response rate of 16 percent, and progression-free survival of 2.2 months, compared to 6 percent and 1.6 months respectively in those that did not. The study was not powered to look at overall survival, but for those receiving the vaccine, it trended positive, 17.8 months vs. 11.1 months.

“This is one of the first positive randomized vaccine trials in cancer and the findings represent a significant step forward for treatment of advanced melanoma,” said Schwartzentruber. “However, the vaccine only can be given to half of those with melanoma because it has to match a patient’s tissue type, or HLA. A major priority for us is to figure out ways to broaden our approach and use mixtures of peptides, for example, so that more patients are eligible.”

The researchers would like to improve upon it by including other immune-stimulatory agents, such as newer vaccine adjuvants, other cytokines and antibodies that further activate immune cells.

Influenza shot lowers odds for premature delivery

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 (last updated)

PLoS Medicine has a new study out by Saad Omer, an assistant professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University Schools of Public Health & Medicine. It has some potentially important news for pregnant women. Some of the key points are outlined in this write-up:

  • Women who gave birth when there were some, but not widespread, reports of flu were 56 percent less likely to have a premature baby than unvaccinated women. During peak flu season, generally January and February, pregnant women who got the flu shot were 72 percent less likely to deliver prematurely.
  • The study, published May 31 in PLoS Medicine, also found a slight association between flu vaccine and protection from “small for gestational age” babies (a birth weight, head circumference or length in the bottom 9 percent) during peak flu season, but not at other times. …
  • Infections during pregnancy can affect fetal growth and development, according to background information in the article. Respiratory infections, particularly pneumonia, are associated with low birth weight and increased risk of pre-term birth.
  • Influenza is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, who have a greater risk of serious illness and death. “There is a lot of evidence that flu is much more severe in pregnant women than in women of a similar age who are not pregnant,” Saad said.
  • Toward the end of pregnancy, women’s lung capacity decreases, and the heart must work harder to pump blood to support the fetus, which taxes the body. Pregnancy may also make it more difficult for the immune system to mount a response to the flu.
  • Babies born during peak flu season to mothers who were vaccinated against flu were 69 percent less likely to be small for their gestational age, the researchers found.
  • “The effect is significant during the flu period, and it goes up along with the intensity of flu circulation,” said lead study author Saad B. Omer.