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Protecting more children from meningitis by developing a new MenB vaccine

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What did the project achieve?

“Our encouraging laboratory results bring us one step closer towards developing a new vaccine that could offer a new way to protect children from the devastating consequences of meningococcal group B bacterial infections,” says Professor Christoph Tang at the University of Oxford.

Meningococcal group B (MenB) bacteria are a serious cause of life-threatening infections worldwide, including meningitis and blood poisoning. MenB disease affects between 500 and 1,700 people in the UK every year, mainly babies and young children.1 Sadly, around one in 10 will lose their lives – and many of those who survive will be left with a permanent disability, such as an amputation or brain damage.1

A MenB vaccine was recently introduced into the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It works by using specific molecules, found on the surface of most MenB bacteria, to stimulate a baby’s immune system to protect them against future exposures. However, as these molecules vary from one bacterium to another, the vaccine doesn’t offer protection against all disease-causing strains.

“We have now determined the genetic blueprint of all MenB strains that caused disease in England and Wales over the last 10 years and have used this information to design a new vaccine with broad coverage,” says Professor Tang.

The team’s approach exploits two important protein molecules that are found on the surface of MenB bacteria but vary widely between strains.

“We have now successfully stitched together parts of both molecules while retaining their structure, which is essential for generating immune responses,” says Professor Tang. “Our longer-term plan is to make a series of these engineered proteins that should provide a new vaccine against MenB, adding to the options available for protecting children from this devastating disease.”

The team is collaborating with an industrial partner to work towards a future clinical trial of their potential new MenB vaccine.


NHS: MenB vaccine overview: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/meningitis-b-vaccine/ [website accessed 31st October 2019]

This research was completed on

Meningococcal disease is a serious illness that strikes with alarming speed, causing meningitis and blood poisoning and killing one in 10 of those affected.1,2 Those who survive can be left with lifelong disabilities. Babies and young children under four are most at risk, although people of all ages are susceptible.1,3 Vaccines are already available, but they don’t protect against all of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Professor Christoph Tang at the University of Oxford is hoping to broaden protection by developing a new vaccine – with the aim of both sparing more children from disability and saving more lives.

How are children’s lives affected now?

“Meningococcal disease is devastating,” says Professor Tang “Children with this disease can rapidly become seriously ill, developing blood poisoning or the severe form of meningitis. Early symptoms include fever, rash, a headache, vomiting and crying.”

Over half of those who develop meningococcal disease in the UK are babies or children under four years old.3 The disease can be deadly and can dramatically change the lives of those who survive.

“Meningococcal disease still kills around 10 per cent of those affected, often within just 24 to 48 hours.” says Professor Tang.1 “Children who survive can suffer long-term consequences, including learning disabilities, seizures and deafness. Some need to have fingers, toes, or even an arm or a leg amputated.”4

Vaccines are already available that can protect us against meningococcal disease, but they don’t work against every bacterium that causes this devastating illness, leaving us vulnerable to life-threatening infections.

How could this research help?

“We are in the laboratory stages of designing a new vaccine for meningococcal disease,” explains Professor Tang. “Over 90 per cent of cases of this disease in the UK result from infection with a bacterium known as MenB, so we are focusing on fighting that bacterium.”1

The new vaccine will work by teaching the immune system to recognise certain proteins that appear on MenB’s surface. As the appearance of these proteins can vary from one bacterium to another, the challenge is to develop vaccines that teach the immune system to recognise as many different MenB bacteria as possible.

“By the end of this project, we hope to have a new vaccine against MenB to move forward into clinical trials in children and young adults,” explains Professor Tang.

Men B kills more children under five than any other infectious disease in the UK.5,6 The need to protect more children through better vaccination is high.



1. Public Health England. Meningococcal infection factsheet. http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1195733822509 Website accessed 11 December 2013.

2. http://www.meningitis.com/ Website accessed 3 January 2014.

3. Public Health England. Laboratory confirmed cases of all invasive meningococcal disease by serogroup, age and epidemiological year, England and Wales, 2000-01 to 2009-10. http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAweb&HPAwebStandard/HPAweb_C/1234859710351 Website accessed 11 December 2013.

4. Viner RM et al. Outcomes of invasive meningococcal serogroup B disease in children and adolescents (MOSAIC): a case-control study. Lancet Neurol 2012; 11 (9): 774-83.

5. Meningitis Research Foundation. MenB vaccine to be available in the UK privately. http://www.meningitis.org/news-media/bexsero Website accessed 11 December 2013.

6. Office for National Statistics. Mortality statistics: Deaths registered in 2010 (Series DR) Table 5.1 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=... Website accessed 11 December 2013.


Project Leader Professor C M Tang MB ChB MRCP PhD FMedSci
Project Location Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford
Project duration 3 years
Date awarded 15 November 2013
Project start date 1 September 2014
Project end date 31 August 2017
Grant amount £199,991
Grant code GN2205


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