UPDATE 1-New meningitis shot could halt African epidemics

Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:45am GMT

* Cheap new vaccine "dramatically better" against A strain

* Experts say vaccine could end "meningitis belt" epidemics

* GSK and Sanofi shots designed for broader protection (Adds makers of comparison vaccines, more details from study)

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) - A cheap new meningitis vaccine designed to treat a type of the disease common in Africa could significantly reduce or even halt future epidemics in Africa's so-called "meningitis belt", scientists said.

International researchers said the vaccine, called MenAfriVac and made by the Indian generic drugmaker Serum Institute, was far more effective than older so-called meningococcal polysaccaride vaccines, including Mencevax from GlaxoSmithKline, in trials in three African countries.

In two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which MenAfriVac's potency and effectiveness was compared with a standard vaccine often used during meningitis outbreaks in the region, scientists said the new shot was "dramatically better".

The first study involved 601 children under two years old in Mali and Gambia, and the second involved 900 adults in Mali, Gambia, and Senegal. Researchers measured immunogenicity 4 weeks after the first dose and found that in the first study more than 96 percent of those who got MenAfriVac had high levels of antibodies in their blood, compared with around 64 percent of those who got GSK's Mencevax.

MenAfriVac was developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation specifically for use against meningitis A, a type which causes regular epidemics in Africa, and costs just 50 U.S. cents per dose.   Continued...

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