Novel vaccine could provide protection from hospital superbugs

9 October 2023 | Muriel Cozier

Healthcare-acquired infections kill more than 90,000 people in the US

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have developed an experimental vaccine which could protect hospital patients against superbugs.

A single dose of the patented vaccine given in mouse models was found to prevent serious infection from drug-resistant pathogens, by allowing the immune cells to provide rapid protection against nine different bacteria and fungi species. The research is published in Science Translational Medicine.

A start-up called ExBaq has been established by the research team, and discussions with potential partners to help take the vaccine to clinical testing are ongoing. AstraZeneca has expressed an interest in the vaccine and has tested it in its own experimental models, the researchers say.

The vaccine comprises three ingredients, two of which are already used in US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccines. The third is derived from the surface of a fungus commonly found on human skin.

The vaccine has been found to work within 24 hours and maintain its efficacy for up to 28 days. Laboratory models showed a dramatic increase in the number of immune cells in the blood available to destroy pathogens, and survival times of invasive blood and lung infections improved.

The researchers added that their data indicates that a second dose could extend the window to prevent infection.

‘It’s an early warning system,’ said senior author Brad Spellberg, Chief Medical Officer at the USC-affiliated Los Angeles General Medical Centre. ‘You’re alerting the soldiers and tanks of your immune system. The vaccine activates them,’ Spellberg added.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare-acquired infections kill more than 90,000 people in the US and lead to costs of between $28 billion and $45 billion. Despite the high incidence of healthcare-acquired infections there are currently no FDA-approved vaccines for the most serious antibiotic-resistant infections.

‘Even if there were such vaccines, multiple vaccines would have to be deployed simultaneously to protect against the full slate of microbes that cause healthcare acquired infections,’ said Brian Luna, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The research team is now getting guidance from the FDA on the design of a clinical trial.

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