Three things we learnt from our Meningitis Spotlight Session

March 2023

Our Meningitis Spotlight Session is a virtual event, exploring the latest scientific developments in defeating meningitis. Completely free, the Session welcomes scientists and researchers from all over the world, with lively presentations, discussion and Q&A.

Our most recent one was in November 2022, with over 200 people attending and over 400 registering to listen back at a time that suited them. Ahead of our MRF conference later this year, here are three things we learnt at our Spotlight Session.

How the picture of meningitis is evolving in the post-COVID world

During the COVID restrictions, there was a great reduction in cases of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. Today, rates remain lower than in previous years for most age groups; However, case numbers have risen to pre-pandemic levels amongst those aged 17-25 years, with MenB responsible for the majority of cases.

There is a similar story for pneumococcal meningitis, as explained by Dr Shamez Ladhani, from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The pandemic saw a decline in cases that then rose soon after. But this time, the rebound has happened more in young children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted how powerful genomic approaches are in decoding links between cases of infections and informing public health response. Last summer, there was a small outbreak of MenB in West Yorkshire; using sophisticated genomic techniques, the meningococcal reference unit of UKHSA determined that cases were genetically linked, and that the strain was expected to be covered by the MenB vaccine, Bexsero. This supported rollout of MenB vaccine for all local 16-24 year olds to prevent further cases.

One vaccine could provide protection against both meningitis and gonorrhoea

In the UK, MenB vaccination is routinely offered to infants but not teenagers. This is partly because this vaccine only provides direct protection and cannot induce herd immunity; so vaccinating teens would not benefit the wider population, limiting the perceived cost-effectiveness.

There is growing evidence to suggest that the MenB vaccine could also protect against gonorrhoea. Dr Hannah Christensen of the University of Bristol presented predictions on what might happen if 14 year olds received this vaccine alongside the MenACWY vaccine (which is already routinely offered to teenagers in UK schools). The findings of their models suggest that ~25% of gonorrhoea cases could be prevented over 70 years or up to 849,000 infections.

So, what does this mean for meningitis?

The potential for Bexsero to offer combined protection against two diseases could have promising implications for cost-effectiveness assessments of future MenB vaccination programmes in the UK. This is because of the wider health benefits and cost savings of one vaccine limiting the spread of two infections. These findings are ever more important following the recent rebound in MenB cases in teenagers and young adults.

The future of vaccines against meningitis is bright

Our speakers were in high spirits about the future of vaccination against all major causes of meningitis:

Dr Giorgia Sulis of McGill University in Canada guided attendees through pentavalent meningococcal vaccines currently in development, which are designed to respectively offer protection against meningococcal A, B, C, W and Y disease (MenABCWY) and meningococcal A, C, W, Y and X disease (MenACWYX). These vaccines each cover five strains, meaning fewer shots are needed. This also makes the programmes more efficient and lowers their costs, making protection more accessible worldwide.

Professor Kim Mulholland, of Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described how vaccines covering more and more strains of pneumococcal bacteria have been approved in the last few years. These vaccines are designed to cover the most common strains in a country, supporting more equitable protection in areas most impacted by the disease.

GBS vaccines have been in the works for over 50 years, but the need for large trials involving pregnant women have hampered progress. Professor Kirsty le Doare of St George’s University of London discussed how a GBS vaccine could instead be licensed by demonstrating that people receiving GBS vaccine produce immunity (measured by levels of antibody in the blood) that would ‘correlate’ to them being protected against GBS.

Manufacturers around the world are now working on GBS vaccines of different formulations, which could prevent over 300,000 cases and 90,000 infant deaths worldwide.

The session ended with Dr Andrew Cox of the National Research Council Canada discussing the development of a vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type A (HiA) - a cousin to the more well-known HiB.

HiA is highly prevalent in indigenous populations of Canada, and so representative organisations have worked alongside scientists in the development of this vaccine.

Studies suggest that the vaccine will be highly cost-effective and approval to start clinical trials is expected in early 2023. We look forward to following the next steps of its development.

Join us at the world’s leading research conference dedicated to meningitis

Are you a researcher or healthcare professional? Join us at the leading research conference dedicated to meningitis. Bringing together the world’s experts on meningitis and septicaemia, this year’s event will be at the British Museum in London on 7th-8th November 2023.

Register now to stay informed on our program and how to book your place.

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