New pneumonia vaccine protects against dozens of additional forms

Current pneumonia vaccines target up to 23 forms of the bacteria that cause pneumonia but the new version covers 72 additional bacteria, and can anticipate future versions of them.
By Amy Wallace  |  Oct. 20, 2017 at 6:12 PM
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Oct. 20 (UPI) -- A new vaccine being developed at the University at Buffalo not only targets 72 forms of S. pneumoniae, but can anticipate future versions of the disease.

In laboratory animal testing, the new vaccine triggered an immune response to the 23 most common forms of bacteria that cause pneumonia, which are currently covered by the Prevnar 13 and the Pneumovax 23 vaccines.

Pneumonia is responsible for the deaths of nearly 1 million children each year worldwide under the age of 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, more adults are impacted by the disease with nearly 1 million Americans being hospitalized each year and 50,000 deaths caused by the infection.

"We've made tremendous progress fighting the spread of pneumonia, especially among children," Blaine Pfeifer, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University at Buffalo's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said in a press release. "But if we're ever going to rid ourselves of the disease, we need to create smarter and more cost-effective vaccines."

Vaccines like Prevnar 13 and Synflorix work by connecting to the unique polysaccharides in each strain of pneumonia via a shared protein called CRM197, forming a covalent bond. This covalent bond triggers the body to find and destroy bacteria before they have a chance to colonize in the body.

However, this method of creating covalent bonds for every strain of S. pneumoniae is costly and time consuming for scientists. Other negatives to this type of immunization called a conjugate vaccine makes the body eliminate the targeted bacteria types even if the bacteria is not attacking the body.

"Traditional vaccines completely remove bacteria from the body. But we now know that bacteria -- and in a larger sense, the microbiome -- are beneficial to maintaining good health," Charles H. Jones, of the University at Buffalo, said.

"What's really exciting is that we now have the ability -- with the vaccine we're developing -- to watch over bacteria and attack it only if it breaks away from the colony to cause an illness. That's important because if we leave the harmless bacteria in place, it prevents other harmful bacteria from filling that space."

Researchers believe that even though forms of pneumonia not covered by the current vaccines are only responsible for 7 to 10 percent of the disease in U.S. children, these forms could eventually replace the 23 common forms targeted in the current vaccines.

By utilizing a liposome that acts as storage for the sugars in pneumonia, the sugars are not covalently bonded so the liposome can host all the sugars appear in individual strains of the disease.

The new vaccine not only has been shown to trigger a strong immune response like that of Prevnar 13, but can also easily have sugars added to it depending on the type of strains that become more prevalent.

"The advantage of our approach is that we don't have to apply the more complex covalent chemistry that is required for Prevnar," Pfeifer said. "As a result, we can extend beyond the 13 types of sugars, potentially providing universal coverage against bacteria that cause pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other types of pneumococcal disease. It holds the promise of saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year."

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