Novel method of polio vaccine administration in development

A team of researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a novel method of administering polio vaccine.

While poliomyelitis was eradicated from the WHO European region in 2002, there were 1,294 cases recorded in 2010, the highest percentage of which were found in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Eradicating the disease is one of the goals of the foundation, Health Canal reports.

“The vaccine currently in use includes oral delivery of attenuated strains of the virus itself and has reduced efficacy in children living in poor environments,” Professor Simon Carding of the UEA’s Medical School and one of the project’s leaders said, according to Health Canal. “There have been outbreaks actually caused by the vaccine. This leads to an unwillingness to be vaccinated, which is a double whammy as you really need to aim to vaccinate 90 per cent of individuals in order to establish herd immunity and for the population as a whole and, in particular, children, to be protected.”

Polio can be acquired through contaminated food, water, and unsanitary conditions. The vaccine must be delivered orally to get into and protect the gastrointestinal tract.

“Our system involves delivering a bacterium that normally resides in everyone’s large bowel which we will engineer to produce the vaccine containing bits of virus particles in response to a sugar called xylan,” Carding said, according to Health Canal. “Xylan is extracted from husks of rice and from wheat and can be administered in a drink. On exposure to the xylan in the drink, the bacterium starts to produce the vaccine antigens to which the gut immune cells respond and provide protection against infection by polio virus.”

The grant is worth $161,840 and will allow the researchers to discover if the vaccine works effectively against the viral disease, what the dose should be and how long immunity would last. The project will begin on September 1.