Vaccine Development Global Program

Pneumonia and pneumococcus

New pneumococcal vaccines tailored for the developing world

Closeup of little girl in Ghana.

Photo: Aurelio Ayala III.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children less than five years old in the developing world. Each year, approximately 1.1 million children die from pneumonia, mostly in low-resource countries. Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), the bacterium that is the most common cause of severe pneumonia, killed approximately 500,000 of these children in 2008 alone according to the World Health Organization. Pneumococcus also causes sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis (brain infection), which kill and disable children worldwide. It is also one of the leading causes of bacterial otitis media (middle ear infection). Vaccines are a critical strategy for protecting children from this deadly disease.

Pneumococcus has more than 90 serotypes, which vary by region. Current pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are effective against serotypes included in the vaccines, but do not protect against all pneumococcal serotypes. They are also complicated and relatively expensive to produce, making it difficult for poorer countries in most urgent need to afford them without assistance. While the GAVI Alliance and other groups have responded by funding the introduction of current pneumococcal vaccines in low-income countries, new vaccines are needed that are intrinsically more affordable and that can provide either focused protection for children against strains prevalent in the developing world or broad protection across all pneumococcal strains.

Working to provide widespread protection

PATH is pursuing a number of approaches to develop pneumococcal vaccines that will be effective and affordable in the countries that most urgently need them. Our pneumococcal vaccine project is partnering with vaccine scientists and manufacturers to advance their research and development toward preventing this childhood killer. We are working from initial discovery through clinical trials to shorten the timeline for developing vaccines to serve the countries in greatest need.

One approach that holds particular promise is the development of common protein vaccines. Vaccines containing proteins that are common to all pneumococcus serotypes could provide broad protection to children worldwide. To advance these technologies, PATH is working with partners to develop an inactivated whole-cell vaccine against pneumococcus that could provide affordable and broad protection for children.

In addition, we are exploring the potential of new conjugation technologies that would more efficiently attach the antigen—the protective component—to “carrier proteins” in order to target coverage of strains that are most prevalent in developing countries and to reduce the cost compared with the currently available vaccines.

Finally, we are supporting the advancement of innovative pneumococcal vaccines that combine protein and conjugation technologies.

We collaborate with partners such as vaccine manufacturers and biotechnology companies as well as academic and research institutions. We also coordinate with other global health bodies such as the World Health Organization, the GAVI Alliance, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through public-private partnerships, PATH is accelerating development of safe, effective, and affordable pneumococcal vaccines to protect children worldwide.

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