Led research shows potential for world-first gonorrhoea vaccine

Meningitis B is caused by Neisseria meningitides, a bacteria similar to the one that causes gonorrhoea, so experts thought the MeNZB vaccine may be able to protect against both.

About 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year and it is becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The study population included adolescents and adults born between 1984 and 1998, who were diagnosed with gonorrhea, chlamydia, or both, and who had been eligible to get the meningitis B vaccine, and who presented to an STI clinic.

Although gonorrhoea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United Kingdom, people who have it may be unaware because it does not always display any obvious symptoms for many months.

Researchers previously noted a decline in gonorrhoea diagnoses in New Zealand after a mass vaccination programme for meningococcal B, a serious cause of life-threatening infections such as meningitis and blood poisoning. The study authors note there is up to 90% genetic homology in primary sequences between Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitidis, providing a biologically plausible mechanism.

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Petousis-Harris said gonorrhoea had traditionally been quite treatable but had recently developed into a "superbug", with some strains now resistant to all available treatments. "If the 4CMenB vaccine, which is now available in many countries, is shown to have a similar effect to the MeNZB vaccine, then administering it in adolescent immunisation programmes could result in declines in gonorrhoea", co-author of the study, Professor Steven Black, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, concluded.

Just a few days ago, we reported on concerns over cases of untreatable gonorrhea resulting from resistance to commonly used antibiotics. This is a 13% increase from the previous year.

Gonorrhoea is a fast-spreading disease that could cause infertility.

"Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it".

Just last week, the World Health Organization said there was an urgent need for new drugs to prevent and treat gonorrhoea, often called "the clap", which is spread by vaginal, oral and anal sex.

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The research was funded by GSK Vaccines, a pharmaceutical company, and Auckland UniServices, a branch of the university that partners academics with industry.

Some of the same molecules were used, however, to manufacture another meningococcal vaccine that is still in use. Called Bexsero, the meningococcal vaccine is developed by GlaxoSmithKline and is created to fight more strains than before.

"These findings are encouraging", Rhyne said.

Other meningitis vaccines ought to be scrutinized, too, Petousis-Harris says.

In addition, the current polysaccharide vaccine has some drawbacks for vaccination campaigns in sub-Saharan Africa: it does not provide long-lasting protection, hence the need for repeated vaccination of at least 80% of the population each time an epidemic occurs; logistic demands and costs are very high; the vaccine has no effect on colonization or transmission of the organism within populations, so travelers returning from an epidemic zone can transmit the infection to close contacts.

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The findings should "reinvigorate" gonorrhea vaccine research, commented Kate Seib, PhD, of Griffiths University in Gold Coast, Australia. "It doesn't kill, but it maims".


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