Novartis' meningitis B vaccine aces study en route to market

The remaining type of meningitis for which no vaccine exists has finally met its match. In a study backed by Novartis ($NVS), researchers found the Swiss drug giant's experimental vaccine, dubbed 4CMenB, provided an immune response in nearly 100% of the more than 1,600 adolescents studied, according to a study abstract published in The Lancet.

The findings follow successful studies of the vaccine in infants and adults. Infants and adolescents are most at risk of the potentially fatal and sometimes debilitating infections. Novartis has already asked European regulators for a green light to provide the vaccine to at-risk patients, and a nod to begin sales of the vaccine could come this spring, the U.K.'s newspaper The Daily Mail reported Wednesday.

"Following successful implementation of routine childhood vaccination with serogroup C meningococcal conjugate vaccines, serogroup B is now the most serious cause of meningococcal disease in Europe and elsewhere, with a substantial medical burden," the study's authors wrote, as quoted by The Telegraph. "In the UK, for example, up to 19 per cent of laboratory confirmed cases of invasive serogroup B disease between 1999 and 2006 were fatal."

Still, meningitis research advocates are pushing for further study of the vaccine and the disease because there are still lingering questions. For example, against just how many strains of meningitis B does the vaccine protect? In an infant study, 4CMenB protected against 80% of strains, The Daily Mail reported.

Novartis could reap a fortune from sales of 4CMenB because of the threat of meningitis B and lack of vaccines protecting against it. Analysts at Decision Resources highlighted 4CMenB, which will be marketed under the name "Bexsero," last year in a list of vaccines with sales potential of more than $2 billion by 2020.

The stakes are high on the meningitis B front: It can kill babies and others in a matter of hours, and an effective vaccine is going to be a hot commodity. Novartis' vaccine has been tested in thousands of patients to present a strong case for its approval and reimbursement by health authorities.

- here's the abstract in The Lancet
- see article in The Telegraph
- and the piece in The Daily Mail