CDC panel disappoints Pfizer, GSK with limited backing for meningitis B shots

The CDC's Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) gave the go-ahead for wider use of meningitis B vaccines, but stopped short of a universal recommendation, not the result many--including GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE)--were hoping to see.

The committee voted Wednesday for a Category B recommendation for young adults 16 to 23, with a preferred age of 16 to 18, which means that doctors will decide on an individual basis whether to vaccinate their patients against meningococcal group B.

ACIP cited "historically low levels of the disease, limited data about the lasting effectiveness of the vaccines and potentially high costs" as arguments against a wider recommendation, The Seattle Times reported.

Five strains cause the majority of meningitis cases, and four of them--A, C, W and Y--are broadly covered by a vaccine for 11- to 18-year-olds. Meningitis group B, however, is the most prevalent, causing about one-third of all U.S. meningitis cases in 2013.

Outbreaks at universities in 2013 drew attention to meningitis B, which didn't have an approved vaccine until recently. Novartis' ($NVS) Bexsero--acquired by GSK earlier this year--won FDA approval in January, several months after Pfizer's Trumenba. In a previous ACIP vote, the vaccines had been recommended only for "high-risk groups."

Though some--including meningitis survivors and parents who have lost children to meningitis B--had hoped for a broader recommendation, the ACIP vote could lead to broader access. While a meningitis jab didn't make it onto the routine vaccinations list, the decision could lead to greater availability in doctors' officers and to insurance coverage. A complete series of Bexsero costs about $320 and a series of Trumenba costs about $345, The New York Times reported.

"GSK welcomes this vote as an important step forward to help protect against meningococcal disease in the U.S.," said Patrick Desbiens, senior vice president of vaccines in the U.S. "Meningococcal disease is fast-moving, unpredictable and can cause irreversible damage, so vaccination is the best tool to help prevent it. Today's vote is the latest milestone on a 20-year journey to develop a vaccine in order to help protect individuals from this devastating condition."

GSK has just agreed to sell two of its older quadrivalent meningitis jabs to Pfizer for $130 million.

- here's GSK's release
- read more from The Seattle Times
- here's the New York Times story

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