University of Guelph-developed C. diff vaccine licensing deal inked w California biotech firm which is about to begin human clinical trials
after successful animal trials
GUELPH – Every bug has an Achilles' heel and University of Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro and his student researchers have found such a way to tackle the so-called "hospital bug" C. difficile, a chronic gastro-intestinal threat to patients and residents of health and long-term care facilities.
It won't be on store shelves anytime soon, with more research and marketing needed, but the university has signed a worldwide licensing agreement with California's Stellar Biotechnologies with the goal of making the vaccine a reality.
That could prove a blessing to those in Guelph, Wellington County and Waterloo Region care facilities and hospitals where the intestinal bacteria wreak havoc periodically.
"To reach this stage is very gratifying," Monteiro said Monday, already looking beyond the breakthrough to other vaccines he and his team may develop using similar technique on a range of harmful micro-organisms, or pathogens.
"Research is like a painting: you never finish a painting," the scientist said.
Local infectious disease fighter Janice Walters said if the C. diff vaccine prevents even one death it'll have been worth it.
"I think anyone who works in health care would be really excited about this news and hoping it could be fast-forwarded and implemented as quickly as possible," said Walters, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health manager of communicable diseases.
Walters said Clostridium difficile is troubling, recurring challenge in the population in general and health care settings in particular, where it can target in particular the ill and weakened. Further, it's becoming increasingly prevalent, causing more serious outcomes and longer hospital stays.
It's been a challenge, for example, at Guelph General Hospital, which declared an outbreak in 2011. So did Kitchener's Grand River Hospital Freeport site. Further, St. Mary's Hospital in Kitchener announced a similar outbreak last year, as did Cambridge Memorial Hospital.
Monteiro is already gained wide recognition for his work on counteragents, like a vaccine to mitigate the symptoms autistic children suffer from gastrointestinal microbes.
He's also made vaccine research advances in recent years in fighting bacteria causing gastric disorders like stomach cancer and food-borne illnesses like common traveler's diarrhea, caused by Campylobacter jejune.
Monteiro said people can die from C. diff, which he noted is commonly called "the hospital bug," by producing toxins harmful to a person's intestinal system.
His vaccine counterattacks by targeting a weak spot in a bacteria's makeup: the complex sugars on its surface. "Each bacteria has its own sugar coat." It should be no surprise he's using this approach, since his background is on sugar (carbohydrate) chemistry.
The vaccine spurs the body to produce antibodies that compromise that sugar coating, essentially crippling the bacterial threat, thus countering the colonization of the organism in the body.
Trials on animals (lab hamsters and mice) proved effective, so human trials are next. But Monteiro said realistically it'll be years at best before the vaccine is widely available, as he anticipates it will be.
How the vaccine is distributed will depend on circumstances years from now, but Monteiro envisions it being made available at the very least to groups at greatest risk, such as the elderly, children, those recovering from surgery and health care workers looking after them.
Leading-edge vaccine research and development, he said, is putting Canada on the map internationally. He's hopeful this will bring more funding and recognition from a variety of sources to Canadian scientists like those at the local university.