European scientists join Sanofi, Pfizer in C. diff vaccine race

With Sanofi ($SNY) having already begun enrollment for its 15,000-person Phase III trial, the French company has a clear lead in the race to develop a Clostridium difficile vaccine, but a growing pack is in pursuit. The latest to give chase is a group of European scientists with a new angle--they are developing an oral vaccine.

Royal Holloway--part of the University of London--is leading the three-year project, which has secured €6 million ($8.1 million) from the European Union to fund development. The vaccine candidate uses bacterial spores to carry antigens and generate an immune response, and is expected to enter clinical trials within 18 months. While Sanofi is administering its vaccine via injection, the Royal Holloway candidate is delivered orally, a difference which the London-based team thinks gives its product the edge.

"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," Royal Holloway Professor Simon Cutting said. Pfizer ($PFE) and European biotech Valneva are also developing C. diff vaccines, but both are still in early clinical trials. Valneva posted Phase I data in September.

Each developer is targeting a bacteria that has become a growing problem for healthcare systems. At a time when most healthcare-associated infections are falling, C. diff is hitting new highs. Just this week, a hospital in Scotland closed a ward to new admissions and transfers because of a C. diff outbreak, the BBC reports.

- here's the press release
- read the BBC news