GlaxoSmithKline files European meningococcal conjugate vaccine

GlaxoSmithKline has announced the submission of a regulatory file to European Medicines Agency (EMEA) under Article 58 for the combination vaccine candidate Globorix (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Neisseria meningitides serogroups A and C).

In clinical trials including countries in Africa and Asia, the conjugate meningococcal vaccine has demonstrated a good safety profile and immunogenicity against meningococcal meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis serogroups A and C in addition to five other major childhood diseases. Under Article 58, the EMEA, in cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO), gives a scientific opinion on the efficacy, quality and safety of medicinal products intended for use exclusively outside the European Union.

"GSK's long-standing commitment to the developing world is reflected in the development of Globorix, a vaccine designed specifically to meet a pressing public health threat in Africa," said Jean Stephenne, President of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. "Using the innovative Article 58 mechanism will expedite the availability of Globorix to those in greatest need while ensuring it meets the world's most stringent standards for safety and efficacy. This vaccine candidate could be available as early as 2008 and has the potential to break the cycle of meningitis epidemics in Africa. It will provide babies with protection against 7 diseases in a combination vaccine and, administered in the classical Expanded Programme on Immunisation, it will help to simplify logistics and costs."

In 2000 the WHO and leading public health experts called for the development of conjugate vaccines in order to shift meningitis control away from expensive last-minute outbreak immunization campaigns towards a more sustainable and long-term prevention strategy. Until today no combined conjugate meningococcal vaccine has been available to protect infants in Africa against the disease.

The current meningitis control strategy relies on reactive mass immunization campaigns using polysaccharide vaccines. While these campaigns are estimated to have saved 70% of lives in epidemics, this older type of vaccine has significant drawbacks. Polysaccharide vaccines do not offer protection to infants and in older children and adults they only protect for 3-5 years, leaving them vulnerable to future epidemics. Polysaccharide vaccines also do not address endemic meningitis.

"There is an urgent need for an improved meningococcal vaccine," said Dr. A. Hodgson, Director, Navrongo Health Research Center, Ghana. "Children are at great risk during the first two years of life and currently we are powerless to protect them with the polysaccharide vaccines. The filing of this new vaccine is good news for African infants because it means that state of the art vaccine technology is now one step closer to those who need it," continued Dr. Hodgson. "The arrival of Globorix and other new conjugate vaccines is the start of a new era in meningococcal disease control for Africa."

Meningococcal meningitis is a highly contagious infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria are transmitted through respiratory secretions, such as sneezing or coughing, and direct contact with infected people. Without treatment, the mortality rate can go up to 50%, with most deaths occurring only 24-48 hours after the appearance of symptoms. Africa's "meningitis belt" encompasses 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is home to more than 400 million people. Endemic meningitis infects children year-round and large outbreaks routinely occur during the dry season -- between December and June -- and major epidemics occur in cycles, every 8-12 years. The largest recorded outbreak took place in 1996 when 250,000 people contracted the disease and 25,000 died.

Globorix is intended for use in African meningitis belt countries, the Middle-East and Northern Africa, where it could replace the pentavalent combination vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b) already administered to many children. The new vaccine has been designed to fit with the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) calendar of organized infant immunization campaigns in Africa, which makes it an attractive and relevant public health response to a devastating disease in Africa.

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