New vaccine promises to help SA’s children

A South African company is set to develop a new vaccine to treat one of the leading causes of sepsis and meningitis in infants.

The development of the new vaccine will be revealed on Tuesday at the Innovation Effect Africa Conference at Durban’s International Convention Centre.

The conference‚ convened by PATH‚ an international nongovernmental organisation that accelerates innovation to save lives and improve health‚ together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‚ Leapfrog Investments‚ the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Wellcome Trust‚ brings together leaders from across sectors to explore opportunities to advance African-led innovation to improve health‚ spur economic growth and end poverty.

The programme for the conference highlights new initiatives and invites participants to take concrete actions including supporting collaborations for African research‚ vaccine development to stop disease outbreaks and innovative financing platforms.

Dr Morena Makhoana‚ CEO of Biovac‚ a South African company that has vaccine building capabilities‚ said Tuesday’s announcement is a milestone for them because it takes them into an area where they can locally develop a vaccine with the support of PATH and the Gates Foundation‚ who are providing funding.

“It takes us into an innovative space and into developing products locally rather than looking to overseas. Hopefully when the product is successful we can manufacturer that particular vaccine from scratch in South Africa. He said they aim to begin clinical trials in about four to five years.

Makhoana said it was the first time the Gates Foundation is working with a vaccine manufacturer in Africa to develop a vaccine as they usually work with Europe‚ the USA and Asia.

He said there was no licensed vaccine in the world for Group B Streptococcus (GBS) – which causes neonatal invasive diseases.

“Not only do we have the opportunity to develop it in SA but it’s a unique vaccine. This disease is prevalent in Africa. GBS does not only result in meningitis but results in the mother being infected herself. There is a vaccine against meningitis given to children that are aged two to three. This vaccine will be given to pregnant women in order for them to protect the unborn child. GBS affects the child in the first month of life when they are most vulnerable. We want to vaccinate the mother so she passes on the antibodies to the unborn child‚” said Makhoana.

He said there was growth in the data that shows that some of still birth issues may be caused by the GBS disease.

“It is not just exciting. It addresses a growing disease burden that is not only in South Africa but the rest of Africa‚” he said.

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