BALTIMORE, April 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Global progress toward a malaria vaccine is among the key topics to be presented at the 12th Annual Conference on Vaccine Research (ACVR), sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) April 27-29, 2009 in Baltimore. The ACVR is the world's largest scientific meeting devoted exclusively to research on vaccines and related technologies for disease prevention and treatment. Scientists will also hear encouraging news about the prospect for wiping out meningitis epidemics across a swath of Africa; use of an adjuvant to expand vaccine coverage in the event of a bird-flu epidemic; and prevention of seasonal influenza among school-age children by holding in-school immunization days from elementary through high school.
Prospects for a Malaria Vaccine
Currently, there is no vaccine against malaria, a disease that kills nearly one million people every year and sickens 300-500 million more. But scientists are cautiously optimistic about the most advanced malaria vaccine candidate, which is scheduled to move into large-scale human trials in seven African countries. Earlier studies have shown the vaccine, known as RTS,S, to be more than 50 percent effective in preventing malarial disease in infants under the age of 17 months.
W. Ripley Ballou, MD, deputy director of vaccines at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is supporting development of a malaria vaccine, said that if results of the larger studies prove consistent with earlier findings, RTS,S will join the existing arsenal of bed nets, anti-malaria drugs and insecticides in the battle against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite. "These are all tools that need to be used together," he said.
The RTS,S vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals with support from the Malaria Vaccine Initiative of PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), is the first of 70 experimental malaria vaccines, most in early pre-clinical testing, to move into a Phase III clinical trial. The trial, which is expected to take three years, is to begin within the next few days among 14,000 infants in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Gabon, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique. Ballou will discuss the prospects for a malaria vaccine at the NFID meeting at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Preliminary studies indicate that it's no longer a question of whether but when we will have a malaria vaccine," said Susan J. Rehm, MD, medical director of NFID and co-chair of the conference. "This is very exciting. Just as encouraging is the progress we are making against such fatal and debilitating diseases as Group A meningitis in Africa. These advances are possible because of important partnerships between academia, private industry, governments, public health officials and philanthropic organizations."
In a keynote address at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, David Salisbury, MBBS, Director of Immunisation for the UK Department of Health in London, discussed accelerated efforts to deliver these and other vaccines to the world's poorest people. Under a three-year-old program initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, public-health officials are now targeting individuals of all ages, not just children, for immunization and trying to integrate vaccines with other critical health needs.
Merieux Award to Dr. Paul A. Offit
The conference will honor Paul A. Offit, MD, chief of the division of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as this year's recipient of the Charles Merieux Award. Dr. Offit, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, co-developed the rotavirus vaccine manufactured by Merck & Co., Inc. He has also been a strong defender of vaccines.
Dr. Offit, who will receive the award at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon on Monday, will discuss the need for scientists to become more effective communicators about vaccines. "It is incumbent on scientists to stand up for the science," he said. "No venue is too small." He urges scientists to reach out to ordinary citizens in venues ranging from PTA meetings to local high schools to explain the scientific method and discuss the safety of vaccines. "Science is wonderfully self-correcting," Dr. Offit said. "We are paying a price for standing back from the science that exonerates vaccines as a cause of chronic disorders like autism. Now, alarmingly, vaccine preventable diseases are starting to come back."
The Merieux Award is named for Dr. Charles Merieux, a French scientist and visionary who devoted his life to vaccines for the prevention of infectious disease. The company he developed from his father's laboratory eventually became sanofi pasteur, the world's largest vaccine maker. The Merieux Award is underwritten by an unrestricted educational grant from sanofi pasteur.
Other Top Scientists to Lecture
Harold S. Margolis, MD, director of the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, Korea, will deliver the Mary Lou Clements-Mann Memorial Lecture on Vaccine Sciences at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday. He will focus on the quest for a vaccine against dengue fever, which kills 20,000 and sickens more than two million people every year. The lecture is named after Mary Lou Clements-Mann, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University who was killed in a plane crash in 1998 along with her husband, Jonathan Mann, founding director of the World Health Organization's global AIDS program.
Steven Black, MD, adjunct professor of pediatrics at the Center for Global Health at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, will present the conference's Robert Austrian Memorial Lecture titled, The Ever Changing Landscape of Pneumococcal Sero-Type Epidemiology, at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. The lecture, which is underwritten by a grant from Merck & Co., Inc., honors the late Robert Austrian, MD, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who developed the first multivalent vaccine against pneumococcus bacteria. Also on Tuesday, the conference will announce the recipient of this year's Maurice R. Hilleman Early Stage Career Investigator Award, which recognizes promising scientists who are just beginning their careers in vaccinology.
A Meningitis Vaccine for Africa
Public health officials in Burkina Faso will soon begin immunizing people aged 1 through 29 with a new vaccine that is expected to end epidemics of Group A meningitis in 25 countries across the mid-section of the African continent, stretching from Senegal to Ethiopia. The area, known as the meningitis belt, is prone to meningitis epidemics because of its six-month dry season when winds whip up dust, causing people to cough and sneeze.
F. Marc LaForce, MD, director of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, a partnership between WHO and PATH, will discuss the roll-out of the vaccine known as MenAfriVac beginning in November or December in Burkina Faso and then to other at-risk countries. Together, the countries are home to more than 400 million people at risk of meningitis, which kills one in 10 and leaves many others with hearing loss, mental retardation and epilepsy.
Until now, public health officials have been offering a polysaccharide vaccine whenever epidemics hit, but it provides only limited protection. The new conjugate vaccine produces a better immune response, can be used with children under the age of 2, and protects unimmunized people who live near those who have been immunized. "The new conjugate vaccine is a major development in the prevention and control of meningitis in the hardest hit countries," says Dr. LaForce. "It will reduce the risk of epidemics that currently kill thousands of people."
Improvements to Avian Influenza Vaccine
Researchers from sanofi pasteur will present findings that indicate the company's bird-flu vaccine, licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007, may be able to cover many more people than originally estimated through the introduction of an oil-in-water-based adjuvant. In a Phase I trial involving 375 volunteers, the company found that addition of the adjuvant to a smaller amount of antigen per dose was effective in boosting antibody response. The response also demonstrated cross-protection with a different strain of the bird flu virus than the strain from which the vaccine was made. A Phase II trial of the adjuvant vaccine, aimed at the lethal H5NI bird flu virus, is to begin by the end of 2009.
Once fully developed, this vaccine could increase sanofi pasteur's potential supply from several hundred million doses to, perhaps, several billion doses in a pandemic situation, company officials said.
Ginamarie Foglia, DO, MPH, director of clinical development at sanofi pasteur, said the results indicate that the licensed vaccine may provide some protection even against a pandemic caused by a different strain of H5N1. She also noted it may make sense to vaccinate people prior to a pandemic with the licensed vaccine and then, if a pandemic breaks out, administer a booster shot of a vaccine made with the pandemic strain.
Boosting Influenza Vaccine Coverage among School-Age Children
While the bird-flu scare in Southeast Asia has captured the public imagination, researchers from Texas A&M Health Science Center and Baylor College of Medicine will report progress against a more common threat - seasonal influenza.
In the Temple-Belton area of central Texas, medical professionals have teamed up with local school districts to boost the uptake of flu vaccine by school-age children. When the vaccine was offered at community sites only, the vaccine reached 30 percent of some 22,000 children. By offering it on "immunization days" held at schools themselves, the figure is now up to 40 percent.
The program, begun in 2007 in elementary schools, was expanded to middle school and high school students in 2008. Students could get the vaccine either in nasal spray or injection formats. In order to receive the vaccine, both students and parents had to sign permission slips.
"We have demonstrated that it's possible to reach a significant portion of all school-age children in a community with flu vaccine," said Manjusha Gaglani, MD, associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Scott & White Memorial Hospital & Clinic at Texas A&M Health Science Center in Temple, TX. "To do so takes a coordinated effort by community health care providers, the public-health community and local schools. A key factor in our success was the commitment by school leaders to allow students to receive flu vaccine at school sites."
About the Vaccine Research Conference
The Annual Conference on Vaccine Research provides current, high-quality reports of scientific progress featured in both invited presentations and submitted abstracts. The wide range of topics covered in both human and veterinary vaccinology offers a thorough picture of the opportunities, challenges and discoveries associated with vaccine development, production and distribution.
The conference is held in collaboration with the Albert H. Sabin Vaccine Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Vaccine Development of the University of Maryland, Foundation Merieux, International Association for Biologicals, International Society for Vaccines, International Vaccine Institute, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The Netherlands Vaccine Institute and United States Department of Agriculture.
Founded in 1973, NFID is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the causes, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.
SOURCE National Foundation for Infectious Diseases