A new vaccine targeting dozens of new strains of pneumonia could potentially save "hundreds of thousands of lives" according to researchers. Early studies show the new vaccine effectively protects against a variety of bacteria that causes pneumococcal disease including pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.

Since the introduction in the early 2000s of vaccines targeting the most deadly forms of pneumonia, the World Health Organization has estimated global deaths of children from the disease have been cut in half. Alongside better nutrition and access to antibiotics, a vaccine against the 23 most deadly pneumonia-causing bacteria has been held as responsible for the millions of lives saved.

Now a team of scientists from the University at Buffalo and New York University's Langone Medical Center has developed a new vaccine that targets another 50 strains of a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae, the primary bacteria responsible for pneumococcal disease.

"We've made tremendous progress fighting the spread of pneumonia, especially among children. But if we're ever going to rid ourselves of the disease, we need to create smarter and more cost-effective vaccines," says Blaine Pfeifer the study's co-lead author.

Less than ten percent of current cases of pneumococcal disease in children in the United States are not covered by current vaccines, but researchers are concerned that these less common bacterial strains could become more prominent. As well as stimulating an immune response to 72 of the 90 known strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae, the new vaccine is engineered in a way that makes it cheaper and faster to produce.

"Traditional vaccines completely remove bacteria from the body," says Charles H. Jones, the study's other co-lead author.

"But we now know that bacteria — and in a larger sense, the microbiome — are beneficial to maintaining good health. What's really exciting is that we now have the ability — with the vaccine we're developing — to watch over bacteria and attack it only if it breaks away from the colony to cause an illness. That's important because if we leave the harmless bacteria in place, it prevents other harmful bacteria from filling that space."

The new vaccine still has a way to go before it reaches the general public but scientists suggest it could offer "comprehensive coverage" against a disease that strikes millions of people worldwide every year.

The new research was published in the journal Science Advances.

View gallery - 2 images