A new jab which protects against the most deadly form of meningitis could be available within months, scientists have claimed.
Trials on 4CMenB vaccine, the first ever vaccine against meningitis B, have produced “exciting” results that could help combat the disease and save the lives of hundreds of children each year.
The results, presented at the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases in The Hague, showed that the vaccine was effective in guarding against about 80 per cent of 1,000 meningitis B strains from across Europe, the Daily Mail reported.
“The results are exciting and it’s a very positive step in the fight to eradicate meningitis B, which is the biggest killer of all types of meningitis in the UK,” said Steve Dayman, of the Meningitis UK charity.
“This vaccine is the first of its kind and has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
Meningitis B is very deadly and can kill babies and toddlers in less than four hours. More than 10 per cent of victims are killed by the disease, with around 15 per cent of survivors left disabled and suffering long-term effects.
There are many types of meningitis caused by different microorganisms. Meningococcal B is the most common form of bacterial meningitis and the toughest challenge for scientists because there are so many strains to target.
Although vaccination programmes have been successfully introduced to combat pneumococcal meningitis and the strains C and Hib, no B vaccine currently exists.
Results from 1,800 children found the vaccine worked well alone or with vaccines for other strains of the disease.
A further study on 1,500 toddlers found that it offered protection when given as a booster jab, while another showed an immune response in adolescents.
4CMenB was developed by Novartis, which has applied for a marketing licence to the European Medicines Agency covering the UK.
The vaccine was developed using a so-called “reverse vaccinology”, decoding the genome sequence of meningitis B and selecting proteins most likely to be broadly-effective vaccine candidates.
It could be given to babies from the age of two months in three doses, with a booster at one year.
Meningococcus B lives harmlessly at the back of the noses and throats of one in ten people. Sometimes, however, it invades and inflames the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.
Milder cases respond to rapid antibiotic treatment but the most serious develop into meningococcal septicaemia when the blood is contaminated.
Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust charity, said: “A vaccine would significantly decrease the level of suffering we see every day.
“But it is essential people remain vigilant and make sure they understand the signs and symptoms. It is essential they do not think the problem is sorted.”