Bexero is a vaccine indicated for the treatment of the meningococal gp B disease
Novartis has received approval from the European Commission for the first vaccine to protect children against Meningitis B.
Bexsero (4CMenB) will be used in Europe to prevent meningococcal B meningitis (MenB), one of the most common and deadly forms of the disease in babies and infants under five years of age.
There is currently no approved vaccine offering protection against this particular type of meningitis.
Novartis has committed to making the Bexsero available as soon as possible, the firm said in a statement on Tuesday.
Meningitis UK is today urging the government to introduce the vaccine into the UK, which has one of the highest incidence rates for MenB in the world.
Meningitis UK Founder Steve Dayman said; “The Government must introduce the Meningitis B vaccine into the immunisation schedule as soon as possible – it will save thousands of lives and spare families so much suffering.
“Any delay means lives will be lost.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government, plans to meet in June 2013 to discuss the vaccine.
MenB is caused by bacteria, leading to inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. It can kill within 24 hours.
In December 2010, Novartis submitted a Marketing Authorisation Application (MAA) to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for bexsero based on positive results from Phase III trials.
In November 2012, the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of EMA adopted a positive opinion for approval of the MAA.
Novartis plans to submit marketing applications in Asia, Latin America and North America.
Meningococcal is a life threatening disease which can lead to death within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms. The disease manifests in the form of bacterial meningitis, which leads to an infection of the membrane around the brain and spine and a bloodstream infection called sepsis.
The bacteria which causes meningococcal disease is called meningococcus and is divided into five main groups, called serogroups, namely A, B, C, W135 and Y. MenB is the most common type of bacteria causing meningococcal disease.
MenB strains can mutate making it very difficult to diagnose and treat. It has led to several outbreaks across the world. The highest rates of the disease occur in the semi-arid and sub-Saharan Africa region.
Most of the MenB cases occur in healthy patients. A person can carry the bacteria for up to six months. It is easily transmitted through physical contact, coughing and sneezing. Infants and adolescents are the most vulnerable groups of the disease.
Initial symptoms of the disease are flu-like and hence difficult to diagnose. The main symptoms such as neck stiffness and rashes appear at a later stage of the illness. Existing treatments for the disease include hospitalisation and antimicrobial therapy. The disease, however, is difficult to treat due to its rapid rate of progression.
An estimated 20,000 to 80,000 cases of MenB are reported every year. About 5-10% of the people die even after being diagnosed and treated. Those who survive the disease suffer from severe complications such as brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioural problems and hearing loss.
DR ANTHONY MELVIN CRASTO Ph.D