A group of leading scientists from across Europe have launched a three-year project aimed at developing an oral vaccine against Clostridium difficile, an infection that kills around 4,000 people a year (almost four-times more than MRSA) and for which there is currently no effective treatments.
While normally harmless in healthy people, the C. difficile bacteria can prove fatal when the natural bacteria of the gut are disrupted from antibiotic use. It is common among the elderly and infection rates are estimated to be as high as 50% in those whose hospital stays exceed four weeks.
Led by Royal Holloway University, the consortium has taken the novel approach of looking to produce a vaccine that can be taken orally, under the tongue, rather than via injection, by using harmless bacterial spores to carry antigens and boost immunity by targeting the protein needed for the infection to take hold.
“We believe that our approach to develop this vaccine will provide significantly greater protection against infection and relapse, than would have been achieved via injections. This method is also likely to inform the treatment of many other diseases,” said Professor Simon Cutting from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway.
“C. difficile poses a major public health threat and there is an urgent need for protective vaccines. I am delighted to be coordinating this programme with such a strong team of academic and industrial experts”.
The project is funded by a European Union grant of approximately six million Euros, with the first clinical trials expected to start in the next 18 months.
The scientists are presenting the project to practitioners and pharmaceuticals from across the world today, at the ‘Raising C. difficile Awareness’ conference in North Carolina, USA and the BIO-Europe conference in Vienna, Austria.