We use necessary cookies that allow our site to work. We also set optional cookies that help us improve our website For more information about the types of cookies we use, visit our Cookies policy and manage your preferences.


Preventing meningococcal disease - Southampton

Professor John Heckels

University of Southampton

May 2012 – Nov 2014

Research people image

The vaccine potential of meningococcal proteins identified by immune proteomics.


The development of a fully effective vaccine against disease caused by all group B meningococcal (MenB) strains remains the critical goal for prevention of meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia. The recent announcement of one potential multicomponent vaccine is encouraging, but there is likely to be a continuing need for a vaccine effective against all strains.

Vaccines work by using a harmless fragment of an infectious agent to “trick” the immune system to produce protective antibodies as it would during an actual infection, so protecting against further infection. To develop such vaccines requires the identification of the few individual bacterial components (antigens), from many hundreds, which have the ability to produce effective immunity. Previous research has demonstrated that most people develop immunity to meningococcal infection when they carry meningococcal bacteria in the back of their throat.

During previous work supported by us (formally Meningitis UK), Professor Heckels identified seven such antigens and began the task of producing them in pure form for vaccine studies. One antigen was purified, incorporated into a vaccine formulation and used for immunisation. The preliminary results were promising and further funding was secured to continue the research.

What the research team planned to do

This project aimed to evaluate the ability of the remaining individual antigens to induce protective immunity against a wide range of meningococcal strains, to select the most promising ones and combine them in a multicomponent formulation. This vaccine can then be tested for its ability to induce protective immunity against a wide range of group B, and other, meningococcal strains.

The project is now completed and has achieved some very promising results. Of the seven original meningococcal proteins, three have been identified which can be easily purified and induce the production of antibodies that could protect against a wide range of meningococcal strains. These antigens are therefore strong candidates, either singly or combined, for inclusion in a vaccine designed to protect against the diverse range of Men B strains occurring in the community. Two other proteins also have the potential for use in a multicomponent vaccine.

The researchers would like to continue this work and produce a multicomponent vaccine for pre-clinical trials.

Summary and impact of results

This project has discovered different meningococcal proteins that could be used to produce a more effective vaccine to protect against not only MenB disease, but also other meningococcal strains.

The results of the studies with antigen F have been published in the journal Vaccine.

Another paper has been submitted for publication and three further manuscripts are planned.

More information

If you would like more information about this project, or our research in general, please contact research@meningitisnow.org.