UK researchers helping to create new whooping cough vaccine

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A new vaccine is being developed against whooping cough, which causes 200,000 preventable deaths in children around the world each year.

Researchers in Southampton are leading the UK arm of a Europe-wide study to create a replacement for the current vaccine which does not offer lifelong protection and has become less effective over time.

The condition, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis (B. pertussis). It is spread through coughs and sneezes of someone with the infection.

It causes repeated coughing that can last for two to three months or more, and affects mainly babies under the age of six months - the group most vulnerable to severe and sometimes life-threatening respiratory and neurological complications which require hospital admission.

In the UK, 18 babies have died as a result of the infection since 2012 and it affects 16 million people worldwide every year.

Adults suffer a milder form of the disease but can still have an unpleasant cough for up to three months. The first symptoms are similar to those of a cold and intense coughing bouts start around a week later.

Professor Robert Read, director of the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, is leading the £2.3 million study to improve the vaccine testing and development.

It forms part of a wider £24 million European project, Periscope, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), involving experts from 22 institutions across 11 countries.

At the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility, clinicians will inoculate healthy volunteers with nose drops containing B. pertussis and monitor their immune responses before giving them an antibiotic to clear the infection.

Prof Read said: "This study is part of a landmark European project that aims to develop a better vaccine against whooping cough as we know protection by the current vaccine seems to be much less effective than it was 15 years ago.

"To do this we need to know more about the immune response generated against B. pertussis and what kind of immune response protects against whooping cough."