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The development of a high-level protective melioidosis vaccine

Melioidosis is a severe disease caused by the soil-borne, pathogenic bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, endemic in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The disease manifests in many clinical forms, including septicaemia and organ failure, with an extremely high mortality rate, due to the lack of timely and proper diagnostic tests, inefficient antibiotic treatment and relapse. Prevention, in the form of a vaccine, is the best solution.

The present issue of the international journal, Vaccines, reports the work carried out by Prof. Richard Titball’s group at the University of Exeter (UK), in collaboration with other UK labs, and Prof. Martino Bolognesi and Dr. Louise Gourlay from the structural biology unit at the Department of Biosciences, which has led to the development of the most protective melioidosis antigen formulation tested to date.

The vaccine is a cocktail of diverse proteins, some of which trigger antibody production, which boosts the immune system. Unlike previously tested melioidosis vaccines, some of the proteins in the cocktail induce a cell-mediated immune response, thus providing enhanced protection against chronic infection.

In light of the successful findings reported for the in vivo trials, it is hoped that human clinical trials will take place in the future. A successful vaccine has the potential to save thousands of lives, particularly in North-East Thailand, where melioidosis is the third most common cause of death from infectious diseases (after HIV and tuberculosis), and in Darwin (Northern Australia), where it is the most common cause of fatal community-acquired septicemic pneumonia. The work was funded by the Fondazione Cariplo (Vaccines Project, 2010-2014) and is available in Epub version ahead of print.