Women in Southampton take part in maternal vaccine study to combat virus in infants

Dr Chrissie Jones - webPregnant women in Southampton are among the first in the world to participate in a clinical trial of a vaccine that could protect babies against a virus which can cause life-threatening infections.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes infections in the lungs and breathing passages and affects nearly all infants by the age of two. Although it can affect people of all ages, it often causes only mild cold-like symptoms among younger adults and older children.

However, in babies and other vulnerable groups such as older adults, RSV can lead to severe lung infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia – resulting in around 30 deaths a year among babies in the UK.

During the winter months the virus causes epidemics responsible for up to one in six hospital admissions in children less than a year old every year and, long-term, can lead to the development of persistent wheeze and asthma.

Now, doctors at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust are offering women receiving antenatal care at the Princess Anne Hospital the chance to participate in a trial with an investigational RSV vaccine.

The vaccine is designed to generate proteins in the mother’s blood – known as antibodies – which can pass to babies in the womb and, once born, hopefully protect children for a minimum of three months.

Antibodies recognise foreign substances such as germs and alert the immune system, which attempts to destroy them and/or stop them from replicating.

Immunisation in pregnancy is already used to protect babies against diseases such as whooping cough, tetanus and influenza and study investigators hope that this investigational RSV vaccine will be similarly effective at preventing RSV disease.

“RSV is the leading cause of hospitalisation in young children and globally millions of children are affected by RSV every year," said Dr Chrissie Jones, a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at Southampton Children's Hospital.

"An effective vaccine could prevent thousands of babies a year having to be admitted to hospital in the UK and around the world and has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives."

Dr Jones, who is also an associate professor in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, added: "This is the first time in 50 years of research that a potential RSV vaccine has been developed for use in pregnancy to prevent RSV disease right from birth, so we are delighted to be part of a such an exciting international study."

The trial, which is also being run at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, St Georges NHS Foundation Trust in London and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and will involve between 4,600 to 8,600 women worldwide, is being funded by Novavax Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company based in the United States, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more information, contact the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility on 023 8120 6856 or email UHS.recruitmentCRF@nhs.net.  

Posted on Wednesday 11 October 2017