Further evidence has come to light relating to the UK government vaccine committee chair, Prof Andrew Pollard, and the controversial Meningitis B vaccine, Bexsero, which the committee recommended for use in February 2014 . A document from the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) assessing the impact of scientific research projects stresses the key role of Prof Pollard in the development of meningitis vaccines and Bexsero in particular - and the product was founded on Prof Pollard's patents.The document states:
Meningococcal disease is the leading infectious cause of death in children in the UK, and its prevention is a major objective of the Oxford Vaccine Group, directed by Professor Andrew Pollard. During the period from 2001-2013 more than 10,000 volunteers were enrolled in clinical studies in Oxford, mainly children, and the research provided new insight into the design, development and evaluation of novel vaccines for meningitis and specifically meningococcal disease.
Clinical Trials of New Meningitis Vaccines
The University of Oxford has been at the forefront of the evaluation of novel meningitis candidates in infants and young children. The first global clinical trials in infants of a quadrivalent meningococcal vaccine (MenACYW, Menveo, Novartis vaccines)…, a combination Haemophilus influenza type -serogroup C meningococcal vaccine (Menitorix, GSK vaccines)…and the first trials of the leading serogroup B meningococcal candidate vaccine (MenB, Bexsero, Novartis vaccines)…were undertaken in Oxford and Professor Pollard was the chief investigator for the pan-European phase 3 study of theMenB vaccine (1,885 infants enrolled)... These studies showed that the vaccines were safe and highly immunogenic in infants and toddlers. Oxford researchers have alsoled the development of novel vaccine candidates for the prevention of serogroup B meningococcal disease.
Regarding the meningitis B research the document records:
Studies on serogroup B meningococcal vaccines have led to major media interest following conference presentations of trials conducted in Oxford including numerous newspaper reports, front page coverage by the Independent (2008), Daily Mail and extensive BBC News reporting. The first infant studies of a new serogroup B vaccine (Bexsero) were conducted in Oxford and have been extensively cited. Professor Pollard was asked to give evidence to the World Health Organization in April 2011 on serogroup B meningococcal vaccine... In addition, the first phase 3 infant study in Europe, led by Oxford University investigators, assembled with data from other global studies, led to licensure of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency in early 2013. A recommendation in the UK for use of the vaccine among high risk groups and laboratory workers has been made.., and its routine use for children is being considered by the Department of Health…The design and development of new vaccines for serogroup B meningococcus by Oxford University have led to a number of patents on the candidate vaccines (based on various surface proteins including Opa, PorAm and FetA), which provide a licensing position for the University as these vaccines progress through early phase clinical trials.
Conduct of Trials:
Studies on plain polysaccharide meningococcal and pneumococcal vaccines provided the first direct demonstration that these vaccines do not induce memory B cells, explaining the phenomenon of hyporesponsiveness (where “booster” doses of vaccines do not induce an immune response). This led to a change in policy for vaccine trials, which had previously used plain polysaccharides to test immunological memory. This outcome was cited in a commentary from Novartis Vaccines in 2009.
A web-search brings up four relevant patents in which Prof Pollard is named with co-inventors Martin Maiden and Ian Feavers . In two cases the patents also mention Isis Innovations Ltd, in one case as applicant and in the other as assignee – Isis Innovations is a subsidiary of the University of Oxford .
Prof Pollard was appointed to the chairmanship of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in October 2013. The JCVI is the body that recommends vaccines inclusion in the schedule, and is equivalent to the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
The Oxford Vaccine Group, of which Pollard is Director is sub-division of the Jenner Institute, another Oxford body and charitable trust founded in 2005. In the minutes of the very same meeting in which the JCVI under Prof Pollard’s chairmanship agreed to recommend Bexsero we can also read:
The Committee agreed that: • The code of practice should be revised to indicate that members should avoid both specific and non-specific personal pecuniary interests involving vaccine manufacturers. since such interests might be perceived as conflicts, even if the interest is related to a non-vaccine product or a vaccine not under consideration by the Committee; • all other non-pecuniary non-specific and non-pecuniary specific interests should be declared as per the code of practice • those with specific interests will not be allowed to vote • involvement with charities was considered as a potential conflict and should be declared; personal pecuniary interests with charities should be avoided • any conflict of interest should continue to remain for one year after it ceased; • that where questions arose regarding potential conflicts of interest these should be raised with the secretariat and discussed with the Chair on a case by case basis, with the Committee notified of any decision; • members of JCVI Sub-committees should follow the same rules, however invited experts would be permitted to have pecuniary interests, although these should be declared and noted
But there can be no doubt that whatever financial arrangements Prof Pollard has come to with his complex of professional associations that he has a huge professional investment in the reputation and success of the product Bexsero.
These are the links to earlier articles in the Bexsero series:
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.