New pneumonia vaccine could save two million lives per year

James Paton Scientist of the Year

A vaccine against the biggest bacterial killer on the planet is a step closer to being available with funding secured for preclinical trials.

Professor James Paton, Director of the University of Adelaide’s Research Centre for Infectious Diseases and his team have been working on a vaccine for Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) that could save two million lives globally a year and address the overuse of antibiotics that leads to resistance.

“The pneumococcus is the biggest bacterial killer on the planet. It’s the most common cause of pneumonia, which is responsible for about 20 per cent of deaths from all causes in children under 5 years in developing countries. Globally, the pneumococcus accounts for about two million deaths a year,” says Professor Paton.

Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is principally spread through close contact with infected but asymptomatic carriers, is the leading cause of sinus and ear infections, meningitis, sepsis and pneumonia. Ear infections are one of the most common childhood illnesses that are habitually treated with antibiotics, contributing to increasing bacterial resistance.

“Vaccinating people against Streptococcus pneumoniae would help to ameliorate the global challenge of increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics,” says Professor Paton.

“The problem with the existing pneumococcal vaccine is that it targets the outside coat of complex carbohydrates - of which there are 98 structurally distinct types. The current vaccine costs about $150 a dose and only covers 13 types.

“What we have done is to remove this coat to expose all the surface proteins that are common to all pneumococcal types. The body mounts an immune response to these surface proteins if previously exposed or vaccinated.”

Sixteen months ago, Adelaide-based GPN Vaccines Pty Ltd was created to develop this novel “whole bacterial” vaccine (Gamma-PNTM) against Streptococcus pneumoniae. The company has already secured investment from local angel investors as well as a major grant from the National Health & Medical Research Council and a Commercialisation grant from the South Australian Government.

GPN Vaccines has now raised a further AUS$1.1 million from international and Australian-based investors that will be used for preclinical evaluation of the Gamma-PNTM vaccine. Toxicity tests will be carried out as well as the scale-up clinical grade manufacture of the vaccine in readiness for testing in a first-in-human clinical trial.

Dr Tim Hirst, Chairman & CEO of GPN Vaccines said “We are delighted by the rapid progress being made by GPN since its incorporation, which is testament to the capabilities of our partnership with the University of Adelaide. This capital raising puts GPN in a very strong position, enabling us to rapidly move forward our vaccine development program”

Streptococcus pneumoniae

Image: Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, Manu5

Tagged in Research, School of Biological Sciences, Research Centre for Infectious Diseases, Biomedical Science

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