Ratcheting Up Germ Warfare
The drug industry is focusing once again on battling diseases with novel vaccines:
Disease: Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes encasing the brain and spinal cord that can maim or kill within hours.
Cause: Meningococcal bacteria.
Vaccine: In January, the Food & Drug Administration approved Menactra from Sanofi-Aventis (SNY ), the first for teenagers and adults. It's a longer-acting version of an older vaccine, and may confer lifetime protection.
Disease: Whooping cough, a highly communicable disease that causes prolonged coughing and can be fatal in infants.
Cause: Bordetella pertussis bacterium.
Vaccine: The FDA approved the first two vaccines this spring for teenagers and adults: GlaxoSmithtkline's (GSK ) Boostrix was O.K.'d for 10-18 year olds, and Adacel, by Sanofi-Aventis, for patients age 11 to 64.
Disease: Shingles, an extremely painful nerve and skin infection, suffered primarily by adults.
Cause: Varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chicken pox.
Vaccine: Merck (MRK ) filed an FDA application in April for Zostavax, an adult vaccine that's a much stronger version of its chicken pox vaccine for children.
Disease: Severe diarrhea, which kills 500,000 to 600,000 children worldwide each year as a result of dehydration.
Vaccine: Merck filed for FDA approval of its vaccine RoTaTeQ on Apr. 5, and GlaxoSmithkline expects to file an application for a similar vaccine, Rotarix, soon.
Disease: Cervical cancer, usually fatal by the time it's detected, is the second-largest cancer killer of women worldwide.
Cause: Human papillomavirus.
Vaccine: Merck and GlaxoSmithkline are both in the final stages of clinical trials for vaccines against this virus, which is sexually transmitted.
Disease: Malaria, kills 1 million people worldwide each year, 90% of them under five.
Cause: Plasmodium falciparum, a mosquito-borne parasite.
Vaccine: Glaxo is in the early stages of testing a malaria vaccine in India for children, with backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A vaccine for broad use is at least five years away.
Disease: Tuberculosis, a respiratory disease that destroys the lungs and kills 2 million people a year worldwide.
Cause: Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects one-third of the human race, though it usually lies dormant.
Vaccine: The Gates Foundation is a major funder of vaccine research for this disease, but a vaccine is likely 10 years off.
Disease: Dengue Fever, disease of the tropics that infects 100 million people a year. Though it can usually be treated, some forms are very severe and can be fatal.
Cause: Flavavirus, borne by mosquitoes.
Vaccine: GlaxoSmithkline and Sanofi-Aventis are testing vaccine candidates in Thailand and Vietnam, and a vaccine could be available for in five years.
Disease: AIDS, which cripples the immune system, killed over 3 million people worldwide by 2003, and 5 million or more are infected each year.
Cause: Human immunodeficiency virus, transmitted in bodily fluids.
Vaccine: Although many researchers are working on a vaccine, it's likely many years away.