Aiming to develop affordable vaccines in this healthcare sector, a research and development organisation Hilleman Laboratories on Thursday announced its expansion into the area of maternal and child health.
The vaccine, once ready for use, will act against the Group B streptococcus bacteria to make a positive impact for women and children living in low middle-income countries.
Streptococcus agalactiae, or Group B streptococcus (GBS), is a leading cause of serious neonatal infections including septicaemia, pneumonia, and, less frequently, meningitis, urinary tract infections, chorioamnionitis, endometritis and bacteremia in women.
GBS is an opportunistic commensal constituting a part of the intestinal and vaginal physiologic flora in almost 25 per cent of healthy adult women. Maternal colonisation is the principal route of GBS transmission.
GBS converts from the asymptomatic mucosal carriage state to a major bacterial pathogen causing severe invasive infections.
As per the 2017 World Health Organisation estimate, almost 18 per cent of pregnant women, totalling approximately 22 million, worldwide, carry GBS in all regions of the world, ranging from 11 per cent in eastern Asia to 35 per cent in the Caribbean.
India is one of the top five countries for GBS carriage with more than 2.4 million pregnant women affected with the disease followed by China, Nigeria, the US and Indonesia.
Various studies have established that a maternal vaccine may prevent 231,000 infant and maternal GBS cases, and while several vaccines to prevent GBS are in development, none are currently available in the market.
“Hilleman Labs has embarked on a project to develop a safe, effective and affordable vaccine against Group B Streptococcus. In this project, we will design, assemble and test the vaccine within our R&D centre in India.” said Hilleman Laboratories CEO Davinder Gill.
The organisation plans to pay close attention to Group B Streptococcus strains that are reportedly prevalent in India and Southeast Asia.
Hilleman is looking at partnering with vaccine manufacturing companies for further development, manufacture and sale of the vaccine.
According to the lab, there is currently no approved vaccine for Group B streptococcus, and thus this initiative is an important one for women and children living in low middle-income countries.
Currently, patients who acquire Group B Streptococcus infections are prescribed antibiotics, which has resulted in the appearance of Group B streptococcus strains that are drug resistant.
According to Hilleman, there is thus an urgent need to develop alternate solutions such as safe vaccines to prevent the threat of antimicrobial resistance.