Pneumonia infections are not only a problem of developing countries. In Germany more than 60,000 people die annually due to this disease, which is mostly caused by the bacterial species Streptococcus pneumoniae. Combating pneumococcal infections is getting more and more difficult and current vaccines mediate only partial protection.
13 international research institutions representing 10 countries in Asia, Europe and South America have joined forces with the aim to develop new antibiotics and vaccines to fight pneumococcal infection. The department of Microbial Pathogenicity of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig is coordinator of the project named "CAREPNEUMO", which is running for three years and funded with 3 Million Euro by EU.
Antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens are a serious problem: many drugs which successfully eliminated an infection in the past have become ineffective. The emergence of multiresistant bacteria is a severe problem and a variety of antibiotics are now ineffective. Singh Chhatwal, head of the department "Microbial Pathogenicity" at the HZI: "In France and Spain, about half of the pneumococcal isolates are resistant against at least one antibiotic".
The two currently available pneumococcal vaccines have the disadvantage that not all of the more than 90 pneumococcal subspecies, named serotypes, are covered. Prof. Singh Chhatwal said "while vaccination reduces spreading of these seven serotypes it has unfortunately led to appearance of uncommon pneumococcal serotypes. In addition, in Germany and United States for example, the prevalent serotypes are different to those serotypes commonly found in India, which complicates worldwide treatment and prevention strategies. "Therefore, we have to find alternatives for treatment and prevention of pneumococcal infections", says Singh Chhatwal. For this reason, he has initiated the research consortium CAREPNEUMO.
The objectives of the consortium is divided into three research projects: At first, scientists want to identify and characterize pneumococcal serotypes, which are of main importance worldwide. Afterwards, pneumococcal escape of human immune system and induction of pneumonia will be investigated. Then, based on the acquired knowledge, new therapies, antibiotics and vaccines will be developed.