School researcher awarded five-year Wellcome Trust Fellowship

Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Credit: CDC Public Health Image Library

Dr Stefan Flasche has been awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to continue his work in improving pneumococcal vaccination strategies around the world.

Over the next five years Dr Flasche, Associate Professor in Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will receive more than £1m to expand his work which uses mathematical modelling techniques to combat the complexities and challenges of pneumococcal vaccination.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by infection with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms range from sinus and ear infection to potentially fatal pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis - children are particularly at risk from the disease. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCVs) are used to vaccinate children and have greatly reduced the burden of pneumococcal disease across the world. However there are two major global health challenges with these vaccines.

Firstly, licensed PCVs only target a fraction of the many pneumococcal serotypes (about 15%). It is estimated that there are around 300,000 child deaths each year globally because of pneumococci for which there is no effective vaccine. Secondly PCVs are among the most expensive vaccines available. Reducing the cost of PCV immunisation is vital in improving vaccine coverage and their affordability in low and middle income countries.

Dr Flasche’s research will use a combination of unique data-sets and cutting-edge methodology to find out what factors are driving the transmission of pneumococci to young children and development of pneumococcal disease.

Using this information to predict the impact of hypothetical PCV formulations, the research will inform new PCV designs that specifically target pneumococcal serotypes responsible for the majority of disease, while limiting its impact on pneumococcal ecology. Furthermore, the research will investigate who infects infants with pneumococci, a key knowledge gap in assessing whether fewer vaccine doses are sufficient to sustain PCV impact at vastly reduced costs.

Dr Flasche said “I am thrilled to be awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship. Despite the great success of pneumococcal vaccines there is a large remaining burden of pneumococcal disease so there is an urgent need to rethink global pneumococcal immunisation strategies.

“We need to find less expensive ways of immunising children against pneumococci, and to develop new vaccines that protect against a larger proportion of the pneumococcal disease burden. This funding will provide me with an exciting opportunity to expand my research on improving pneumococcal vaccination, which has the potential to save thousands of lives around the world.”