Guest contributor Mark Alderson is director of PATH’s Pneumococcal Vaccine Project. This week PATH is cosponsoring the International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases in Hyderabad, India, where we are presenting promising results from our first-in-human clinical study of a new vaccine candidate against pneumococcal disease.
Pneumonia is a clever killer, responsible each year for the deaths of more than a million children under five years old, most of them in the developing world. If you want to know how serious this respiratory disease is, consider one fact: pneumonia kills more young children worldwide than any other disease.
Because pneumonia has many different causes, no one intervention is enough to outsmart it. We need a diverse set of defenses to beat pneumonia, and vaccines top the list as the most cost-effective means of prevention. If we’re to outwit pneumonia over the long term, however, the vaccines we have now must continue to evolve and improve.
Taming a complex killer
Vaccination against the leading cause of pneumonia, the pneumococcus bacterium, is essential for controlling pneumonia. In fact, vaccines against pneumococcus help save thousands of children each year—children who likely would have died before these vaccines became available more than a decade ago.
Pneumococcus, however, is a complex bacterium, with more than 90 varieties that vary by region. As a result, prevention to date has required the development of complex vaccines. Pneumococcal vaccines available today use an elaborate and expensive manufacturing process that essentially combines vaccines for either 10 or 13 pneumococcal varieties into a single injection. While these vaccines are saving many lives, they do not provide universal coverage against all disease-causing pneumococcal strains. In addition, it’s hard for low-income countries to afford them. Continue reading