Government's £39 million grant to include vaccine research at Royal Holloway

Posted on 05/11/2012

It was announced today that Royal Holloway will be among a select group of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and other universities to receive the first substantial awards from the £180 million Biomedical Catalyst. Grants totaling £39 million have been awarded to accelerate the development of innovative solutions to healthcare challenges.

Researchers at Royal Holloway will use their funding to develop a promising new vaccine for C.difficile, a bacterial infection that kills around 3,000 people a year (almost four-times more than MRSA). C.difficile bacteria are normally harmless in healthy people, but treatment with certain antibiotics can allow C.difficile to flourish in the gut leading to severe diarrhoea that can prove fatal. 

Previous attempts to develop a vaccine have had limited success, but the team has devised a new approach that targets a protein needed by the bacteria to colonise the intestine, preventing an infection from taking hold. Previous work suggests that this vaccine can protect not only against initial infection, but also relapse. Furthermore, the vaccine could be given orally in a solution or tablet, making it straightforward to administer and without the need for injection.

Lead scientist Professor Simon Cutting, from the School of Biological Sciences said:

C.  difficile, is a gastrointenstinal infection that is commonly picked up following hospital stays and causes around 50,000 infections and 3,000 deaths per year in the UK, mostly in elderly patients. Currently, there is no vaccine against the disease, and although several approaches are currently undergoing clinical trials, none are expected to provide full protection, and new solutions are urgently needed.”

Professor Cutting has discovered that Bacillus spores act as ideal vehicles to carry antigens and promote an immune response. He said: “Bacillus based vaccines offer distinct advantages as unlike other approaches, oral delivery can cause a more specific immune response in the gastrointenstinal tract to fully eliminate C.difficile.”

The Biomedical Catalyst – announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in December last year – is designed to deliver effective support for the best life science opportunities arising in the UK, enabling businesses and academics to speed-up the translation of scientific ideas into commercial propositions, for the greater benefit of patients. It is jointly operated by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board. 

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said: “Britain is in a global race today and this £39 million investment will help keep us at the very forefront of life sciences by supporting some of our most innovative SMEs and universities. It will help take excellent ideas through to market, driving growth and helping patients benefit from the very latest technologies and treatments.”

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