LSTM awarded nearly £4 million in grants for pneumococcal research

Press release 7 Nov 2014

Experts to use new unique model to see how nasal spray flu vaccine interacts with the bacteria that causes pneumonia.

Respiratory specialists at Liverpool School Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have been awarded two substantial research grants to further develop and utilise their Experimental Human Pneumococcal Carriage (EHPC) model.

Developed over seven years by the team at LSTM, the EHPC model is the only one of its kind in the world and has already been used successfully to test the efficacy of licenced pneumonia vaccines as well as novel vaccines. It sees volunteers inoculated with the pneumococcal bacteria by placing it directly into their nasal passage, examining immune responses in a controlled manner.

The first of the two grants is 2.5 million USD awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a two year project to determine if nasal spray flu vaccine alters pneumococcal carriage. Working with the Royal Liverpool University Hospital the team, led by Dr Daniela Ferreira, will recruit nearly 300 adult volunteers in order to examine the effects of the live attenuated influenza vaccine on pneumococcal colonisation, measuring immunological responses and changes in nasal microbiota.

Half of the volunteers will be vaccinated with the traditional flu vaccine (jab in the arm) and half with active nasal vaccine before being colonised with the pneumococcal bacteria. The study comes as the nasal spray vaccine, already offered in the USA, is being offered as the flu vaccine of choice for children in the UK, which will be rolled out and offered to all children in the next few years.

Dr Ferreira said: “We are delighted that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has asked us to carry out this research, it is something that our unique model has made possible for the first time. The nasal flu vaccine is safe and effective in terms of influenza, but this study will enable us to understand how it interacts with existing bacteria carried in the nasopharynx and if that leads to further immunity or susceptibility to pneumonia.”

The second award is a Programme Grant of £2.3 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for five work packages to take place over the next five years. This programme of work, led by Professor Stephen Gordon, will utilise or further develop the EHPC model and includes vaccine development, pneumococcal biology, measuring mucosal immunity and looking at host susceptibility.

Professor Gordon explained: “So far our work with EHPC has involved working only with healthy volunteers. Now we will look at how controlled colonisation affects groups of people at risk of pneumonia: older people, smokers or people with asthma or Chronic Obstructive pulmonary disease, people who are most in need of effective vaccinations.” 

One of the most exciting aspects of the award it that it also involves LSTM working with 20 collaborators within the UK and internationally, all of whom are world leaders in their particular field of pneumococcal research. Professor Gordon continued: “The work on EHPC began in 2008 when a 100,000 USD Grand Challenges Explorations award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was used in the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Microbial Infection. The model has gone from strength to strength since then. The MRC grant now means that we are working with specialists all over the world, who for the first time will be provided with samples from the model that they would not otherwise be able to get, enabling multiple research projects all with the aim of understanding and limiting the danger posed to people all over the world by pneumonia and other related pneumococcal infections.”