Striking Back Against S. pneumoniae

UAB’s Toolbox for Pneumococcal Diseases

The World Health Organization estimates that Streptococcus pneumoniae kills one million children under the age of five annually. Millions of people worldwide suffer from pneumonia caused by S. pneumoniae, and similar numbers develop less serious conditions such as otitis media (infection in the middle ear). Currently available vaccines can protect only against the most common S. pneumoniae serotypes (strains), and infections still occur because not all S. pneumoniae serotypes are present in these vaccines.
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Vaccines work by "teaching" our immune systems to recognize and destroy microorganisms that cause disease. Once we have been immunized, our immune systems "remember" to carry out these same functions if the same microorganism infects the body at a later date. Vaccines typically are prepared from parts of the microorganisms that they are designed to destroy. In the case of S. pneumoniae, parts of the bacterial cell wall that define different serotypes, called capsular polysaccharides, are used to prepare vaccines.

Major vaccine manufacturers are conducting research to develop vaccines that will provide species-wide protection from pneumococcal diseases. Pneumococcal infections need to be monitored and typed, and prototype vaccines need to be tested to ensure that new and improved vaccines are effective. There are approximately 90 known serotypes of S. pneumoniae. Antibodies directed towards these serotypes as well as specialized bacterial strains to test the efficacy of vaccines need to be created and utilized.

Moon Nahm, M.D., has created just the right toolbox for these studies in his laboratory in UAB's Department of Pathology. Dr. Nahm is one of the very few researchers in this field who have been able to create hybridoma cell lines producing monoclonal antibodies to many of the naturally occurring S. pneumoniae serotypes. In addition, he and his colleagues have genetically engineered specialized strains of S. pneumoniae to monitor the effectiveness of existing and potential new pneumococcal vaccines.

Several pharmaceutical companies have approached The UAB Research Foundation (UABRF) for rights to use the monoclonal antibodies and bacterial cell lines created by Dr. Nahm. Over the past three years, UABRF has licensed these research tools with upfront license fees totaling more than $350,000 and license maintenance fees totaling nearly $30,000 per year. This income has been distributed in accordance with UAB's distribution policy.

UABRF also is seeking patent protection for some of Dr. Nahm's other discoveries. Dr. Nahm is continuing his research with S. pneumoniae and is characterizing two new S. pneumoniae serotypes. One of these, currently called "6C," is rapidly increasing in prevalence worldwide. New vaccines will need to protect against the 6C serotype, and UABRF hopes to facilitate the transfer of this new technology to major vaccine manufacturers in the near future. In the meantime, Dr. Nahm, his colleagues, and UABRF are pleased to know that the contents of UAB's S. pneumoniae toolbox are being put to good use in the development of new and more effective vaccines against pneumococcal disease.

Posted by Grant Martin on 8/17/2009 10:35:00 AM