Gene-mapping unlocks new generation of vaccines

Researchers at Novartis have made significant headway using gene-mapping tools to develop new vaccines. Mapping the genes in bacterium that cause meningitis B fostered a development program for a new vaccine that has produced some convincing early data. Up to 90 percent of the 150 babies inoculated with the vaccine developed a strong level of defense against three strains of meningitis B. Novartis' vaccine chief--Rino Rappuoli (photo)--has blueprinted a mid-stage trial for the vaccine and says that it could hit the market as early as 2010. Wunderkind geneticist Craig Venter (photo), who helped crack the genetics of meningitis, calls the advance "incredibly exciting," adding that this could be a model approach that others in the vaccine business can follow as well.

Intercell and Merck, meanwhile, have been developing vaccines for staph infections that have been derived from their own gene-mapping projects. And GSK has early-stage programs for vaccines covering streptococcus and the bacterium that causes meningitis B. With the growing pressure to produce new therapies to replace the blockbusters losing patent protection, you can expect to see big pharma continuing to play a leading role here.

"Getting these hints from genetics isn't really close to producing a drug," says David Goldstein (photo), a geneticist and director of Duke University's Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics. He and others say the human genome is helping scientists understand diseases better and should lead to new drugs down the road.

- read the article on gene mapping from The Wall Street Journal

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