January 12, 2015

Research Roundup: MenAfriVac® prequalification, an innovative new antibiotic, Ebola vaccine trials, and more

Senior Program Assistant

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Kathy Neuzil, director of Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH, reflects on the lessons learned from Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) in light of the achievement of its final milestone: World Health Organization prequalification of an infant version of the meningitis A MenAfriVac® vaccine. MenAfriVac® was approved for people aged 1 to 29 years in 2010, and has since been used to effectively protect 215 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Neuzil attributes MVP’s success to the tenacity of its team and the inclusion of country partners at every stage from product development to distribution.

A new type of antibiotic may be the key to treating drug-resistant infections, according to a study published in Nature last week. The antibiotic, teixobactin, was extracted from dirt, and fights infections by targeting the fatty molecules that bacteria use to build their cell walls. While most antibiotics target the bacteria’s DNA, which can be easily mutated, the study’s lead researcher, Kim Lewis, believes it would take at least 30 years for the fatty molecules to mutate and thus develop resistance to teixobactin. The antibiotic has been successfully tested on mice with no side effects, and could be available for use in humans in five to six years.

Johnson & Johnson has started human trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine in the United Kingdom, and hopes to expand testing to approximately 2,000 people by mid-February. Johnson & Johnson has produced over 400,000 courses of the vaccine and has invested significantly in the Danish pharmaceutical company Bavarian Nordic to develop a booster shot to enhance the efficacy of the vaccine and to promote long-term protection against Ebola.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sat down with Ryan Hohman of Friends of Cancer Research last week to discuss hot topics in FDA drug policy. Hamburg affirmed the FDA’s commitment to expediting research and development of new treatments, stating that in this “critical time for biomedical research and innovation” the FDA has a role to play in “translating all of the exciting new discoveries and opportunities and science into real world products that matter for people.”