Pfizer, GSK and NovaDigm race to develop MRSA vaccine

Pfizer ($PFE), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and NovaDigm Therapeutics are each in search of a vaccine to stop methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph infection that kills more people in the U.S. than skin cancer, Bloomberg reports.

The drugmakers take up the task after two other companies failed to make an effective vaccine--most recently Merck ($MRK) in 2011. The staph infection can cost as much as $8 billion a year to treat.

"It's very clear we need a vaccine, and we need it soon," Robert Daum, a pediatrics professor at the University of Chicago and principal investigator at the school's MRSA Research Center, told Bloomberg. "The challenge is, we don't really know what makes people immune to staph infections."

The vaccines from the three companies are in early stages in the pipeline, working through the first of three phases typically required for market approval. Pfizer has two vaccines in early trials, while GSK has completed its first-stage trial of a four-component vaccine. NovaDigm completed two Phase I trials that showed its therapy, NDV-3, is safe in humans.

Generally, benign Staphylococcus aureus bacteria live on people's skin and in their nasal passageways, Bloomberg reports. The bacteria can enter the skin through cuts, sores, catheters and breathing tubes, making infection common in hospitals and nursing homes. MRSA kills more than 11,400 Americans a year.

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