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Meningitis and septicaemia – developing a new vaccine

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A leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia in the UK is infection by a bacterium known for short as MenB.1 Between one in 10  and one in 20 of those who become ill will die and survivors can be left with permanent disabilities.1,2 Many are young children under four years old or teenagers between 15 and 19. Vaccination would be the best way to protect children from MenB infections, but no vaccine has yet been approved. Researchers are helping to put this right.


What's the problem and who does it affect?

Meningitis and septicaemia

Infection by meningococcus B (MenB) bacteria is a leading cause of meningitis and septicaemia in the UK.1 Both illnesses can strike seemingly at random with alarming speed. Healthy children can become seriously ill within just a few hours. Many are babies or very young children, of less than four years old, or teenagers between 15 and 19.

Sadly, between one in 10 and one in 20 dies and survivors can be left with devastating disabilities - some become deaf or blind, for example, or develop learning disabilities, and some have fingers, toes or even whole limbs amputated.

Antibiotic treatment can save lives. However, some children are so poorly by the time they reach hospital that antibiotic treatment comes too late.

Vaccination is therefore considered the best way to tackle meningitis and septicaemia. It can stop children from developing the diseases, save their lives and spare them from suffering.

Vaccines against other bugs that cause meningitis and septicaemia are available in the UK. However, no vaccine has yet been approved to protect children from MenB. This bacterium causes around 1,000 to 1,500 cases of meningitis and septicaemia each year in the UK.3 A MenB vaccine is urgently needed.

What is the project trying to achieve?

Creating a new vaccine

The researchers are developing a new vaccine against MenB, which they hope will protect children from meningitis and septicaemia.

Vaccines normally contain fragments of the bug that causes a particular disease, or bugs that have been killed or weakened in some way. They work by stimulating a child’s immune system to recognise and attack the bug if it ever invades the body.

The researchers are creating a new vaccine that contains genes for proteins from MenB packaged within a modified, harmless cold virus.

The researchers hope the new vaccine will give broad-ranging protection against the many, subtly different types of MenB bacteria – they think the proteins that they have chosen are probably common to most of these bacteria. Evidence suggests that using the cold virus might stimulate a rapid, large and long-lasting immunity to MenB infection.

The researchers are investigating how well the candidate vaccine works in a laboratory model. They are also investigating the possiblity of using it in conjunction with other vaccines against MenB that they are studying in other projects. Mixing the most promising vaccine candidates together, in a single formulation, might be a good way to boost their overall potency, for example.

What are the researchers' credentials?


This project brings together expert researchers from the Oxford Vaccine Group Laboratory and also the Jenner Institute, two leading research centres based at the University of Oxford. Both centres are experienced in all stages of vaccine development.

The project leader, Professor Andrew Pollard, is Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group. Earlier in his career, Professor Pollard was awarded one of Action Medical Research’s prestigious Research Training Fellowships.

The Oxford Vaccine Group has extensive experience of developing new vaccines for children. The group’s researchers have published over 150 peer-reviewed articles. They have expertise in working with MenB and have direct access to cutting-edge equipment in state-of-the-art laboratories.

The Jenner Institute has been developing vaccines since 1994. Researchers at the institute have particular expertise in constructing vaccines – they are highly skilled in the techniques needed to incorporate fragments of the bug that causes a particular illness into a harmless virus, which is known as a vector. Diseases they are tackling in this way include malaria, tuberculosis, influenza, hepatitis C and MRSA infections.

Who stands to benefit from this research and how?

Saving children’s lives and sparing them from disability

The researchers are in the laboratory stages of developing a new vaccine against MenB, a potentially deadly bacterium that causes meningitis and septicaemia.

MenB causes around 1,000 to 1,500 cases of meningitis and septicaemia each year in the UK and up to 80,000 worldwide, with many of those affected being babies and children.3,4

An effective vaccine could stop children from developing meningitis and septicaemia. It could save many children’s lives and stop countless others from developing serious, lifelong disabilities, such as blindness, deafness and loss of limbs. Preventing disabilities could spare children from suffering and bring large cost savings – to the children, their families and society as a whole.

The researchers believe their new vaccine could benefit children in the UK and worldwide. They expect it to be highly affordable, making it suitable for widespread use. If their laboratory work is successful, they plan to set up clinical trials of the vaccine as soon as possible.


  1. Gray SJ et al. Epidemiology of meningococcal disease in England and Wales 1993/94 to 2003/04: contribution and experiences of the Meningococcal Reference Unit. Journal of Medical Microbiology 2006; 55: 887-96.
  2. Health Protection Agency. Meningococcal infection factsheet. Website accessed 4 February 2011.
  3. Health Protection Agency. Meningococcal Reference Unit: Isolates of Neisseria menengitidis; England and Wales, by serogroup & calendar year, 1998-2009. http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1234859712887 Website accessed 4 February 2011.
  4. World Health Organization. Initiative for Vaccine Research, Bacterial Infections. Neisseria meningitidis. Disease Burden, 5th pg. Available at http://www.who.int/vaccine_research/diseases/soa_bacterial/en/index2.html.


Project Leader Professor A J Pollard FRCPCH PhD
Project Team Dr Christine Rollier PhDProfessor Adrian VS Hill DM FMedSci
Project Location Department of Paediatrics, Oxford Vaccine Group Laboratories, Churchill Hospital, University of Oxford
Project Location Other The Jenner Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford
Project duration Two years
Date awarded 23-Nov-10
Project start date 01-May-11
Project end date 31-Dec-13
Grant amount £148,052
Grant code SP4594, GN1789


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