Work begins on new pneumococcus vaccine

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A new vaccine targeting pneumococcal disease, a serious infection that can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis, will be developed by Astellas Pharma Inc., after it signed a licensing agreement for the unique vaccine technology of medical research firm Affinax, Astellas Pharma said.

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The exclusive worldwide license agreement allows Astellas to utilize Affinax’s proprietary vaccine technology platform, called the Multiple Antigen Presenting System (MAPS), to develop and commercialize a vaccine targeting Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).

Although the treatment is described as a vaccine, pneumococcus is actually a bacterium often found in the upper respiratory tract of healthy adults and children, and can cause serious infections.

The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes pneumococcal disease as “a major global health problem,” and estimates that more than 1.6 million people, including more than 800,000 children under five years old, die every year from pneumococcal infections. Most of these deaths occur in low-income and developing countries, the WHO said.

The Philippine Department of Health (DOH) also describes pneumococcal infection as a serious public health problem, pointing out that pneumonia, the most common disease caused by pneumococcus, along with other respiratory tract infections was the second-leading cause of death among Filipinos as recently as 2013, the latest year for which data was available. “It is the leading vaccine-preventable cause of death in the Philippines,” the DOH said.

Since 2011, the DOH has provided free pneumococcal vaccination for senior citizens aged 60 and 65 through local health centers as part of a campaign to reduce deaths from related infections such as pneumonia. “Age related-impairment of the immune system compounded with decrease of physical activity and poor nutrition increase the risk of severe pneumococcal infection,” the DOH explained.

The current vaccine is given in two doses five years apart. The health department said that since 2011, more than 1.5 million elderly Filipinos have received the vaccine.

In a statement, Astellas Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Dr. Kenji Yasukawa said, “Astellas expects to provide a new option to prevent with high unmet medical needs by developing innovative MAPS vaccine as part of our commitment to serve patients interests worldwide.”

Astellas, which is headquartered in Japan, also has operations in the Philippines and would distribute the vaccine here once it is ready for commercial use.

Describing the improvement expected in the new vaccine, Affinivax explained, “The MAPS vaccine platform is designed to enable the high affinity binding of protective polysaccharides and proteins in a single vaccine, offering the potential to provide broader protection against invasive disease than currently available vaccines, as well as the potential to reduce nasopharyngeal colonization (the first step in disease transmission).” So far, the medical technology company said, the novel vaccine has performed well in proof-of-concept and pre-clinical studies.

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