We commissioned this unique online library to help scientists throughout the world develop and test vaccines for meningococcal infections, especially meningococcal Group B (MenB) – the leading cause of deaths from meningitis and septicaemia in the UK and Ireland.
It was a world first – a truly ground-breaking resource - which provides the complete genetic blueprint of every meningococcus that was isolated as a cause of meningitis or septicaemia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland between July 2010 and June 2013. Meningococcal genomes from Scotland between 2009 and 2013 have also been added.
Nothing on this scale had ever been attempted for meningitis, or for any other human disease.
The Library is free of charge and open to all researchers, anywhere in the word and is invaluable for evaluating and implementing new vaccines - which will ultimately save millions of lives across the globe.
It was set up under the leadership of Prof Chris Tang at the University of Oxford as a collaboration between the Maiden laboratory at the University of Oxford, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Public Health England Meningococcal Reference Unit, to create a long-lasting tool that would continue to be useful to the scientific community in the future.
Why is this project important?
In recent years, the genome sequence has been used as a starting block for developing novel vaccines, including Bexsero®, which had a single bacterial genome as the starting point for its development.
However, whenever a promising vaccine component is identified, it is essential to determine how widely it is present in all disease-causing bacteria. This is especially tricky with the meningococcus, which is a master of disguise and can change its surface structures to avoid our immune system and potential vaccines. This is known as ‘vaccine escape’ and requires extensive investigation. But the library will save thousands of research hours by helping scientists to plot the changes in bacteria since 2010 – which in turn makes it easier to find solutions.
The Library also helps identify the proportion of meningococcal strains a vaccine could cover and tests the feasibility of using whole genome sequencing for routine typing and surveillance, a subject of international importance.
The project produced an online, open-access database that any researcher in the world can use and update. Data from the library is used by researchers to investigate meningococcal genetics in greater detail.
This library is an international hub for meningococcal genomic information and represents a world first in providing the genome sequences for a whole epidemiological year of meningococcal isolates.
The library has been instrumental in establishing that a rise in MenW cases since 2009 belong to ST-11 (cc-11), a particularly virulent sequence type with a high case fatality rate.
The MRF Meningococcus Genome Library has also paved the way to developing a global meningitis genome library