Vomiting Bug Vaccine Seen as Shot in the Arm for Cruises

Vomiting Bug Vaccine Seen as Shot in the Arm for Cruises

As a new strain of stomach flu leaves a trail of stomach-clenching illness from Sydney to San Diego, scientists are moving closer to thwarting it for good.

Early stage human studies on a vaccine against norovirus, the top source of gastroenteritis in the U.S., are set to finish this year. That would make work on the vaccine, developed by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. (4502), the farthest along of several immunization candidates. A course of shots may confer lifelong protection against 95 percent of strains, said Rajeev Venkkaya, who heads the Japanese drugmaker’s vaccines unit.A norovirus vaccine would be a boon to cruise ships, schools and nursing homes struggling to deal with a highly contagious, untreatable scourge. Of the 21 million people infected in the U.S. annually, about 800 die, mostly the very young and the elderly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Given the highly infectious nature of norovirus and its ability to cause extensive outbreaks in hospitals, elder-care facilities and cruise ships, there is a need for prophylactic and preventative approaches to guard against infection,” said Peter White, a microbiology professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. A vaccine “would be particularly important for individuals with a high risk of exposure” or weakened immune defenses, he said.

White’s lab last year helped characterize the new variant, dubbed GII.4 Sydney for the city in which was first identified. The germ was responsible for the worst bout of gastroenteritis in a decade in Australia’s Victoria state and has sparked outbreaks worldwide since March 2012.

Nausea, Vomiting

Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, can be caught from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC. It causes the stomach and intestines to become inflamed, resulting in pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Most outbreaks occur from November to April in the U.S.

If approved, Takeda’s norovirus vaccine would be the first to protect people against the germ. It would potentially add as much as $400 million in annual revenue for the Osaka-based drugmaker, said Atsushi Seki, a health-care analyst at Barclays Plc in Tokyo.

In children younger than 5 years, norovirus caused 14,000 hospitalizations and 281,000 emergency room visits in 2009 and 2010 in the U.S., amounting to $273 million in annual treatment costs, the CDC said in a statement in March.

Takeda’s vaccine candidate combines viral components from two norovirus types that laboratory studies suggest should fight all strains known to have circulated during the past 20 years, including the Sydney one, Venkkaya said in an interview. Studies of the vaccine in healthy volunteers began in May 2012.

Years Away

Takeda, Asia’s largest drugmaker, plans further tests in children and the elderly, and a larger study to gauge the efficacy of one or two shots, he said, adding that it will be “several years” before the vaccine is ready for sale.

“I’m optimistic for this vaccine,” he said. “It continues to look very good to us.”

Takeda took over development of the vaccine when it bought Bozeman, Montana-based LigoCyte Pharmaceuticals Inc. last year for an initial payment of $60 million. Takeda will pay LigoCyte more based on the vaccine’s success. The acquisition is part of Takeda’s strategy to tap the $25.3 billion global vaccines market.

Gates Foundation

Venkkaya was previously director for global health delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw the foundation’s work on polio eradication and introducing vaccines.

At least two other groups besides Takeda are developing vaccines against norovirus. UMN Pharma Inc. (4585), based in Yokohama, Japan, and Finland’s University of Tampere are developing UMN-2003, which aims to protect against rotavirus, another cause of viral gastroenteritis. Charles Arntzen, professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology, is also working on one at Arizona State University in Tucson.

All three vaccine candidates are based on virus-like particles — proteins that resemble key components of the virus, enabling the immune system to recognize and fight the pathogens.

Scientists are developing new weapons to fight norovirus years after they successfully produced vaccines against rotavirus. The delay reflects the difficulty of researching norovirus, which can’t be grown outside the human body, said White at the University of New South Wales.

Glaxo, Merck

GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) sold 360 million pounds ($556 million) of its Rotarix vaccine for rotavirus last year, while Merck & Co. (MRK)’s RotaTeq generated $601 million.

While long-term care facilities and schools are especially prone to outbreaks, new epidemics of acute gastro often emerge on cruise ships, where control is hindered by close living quarters and shared dining areas. With regular turnover of passengers, noroviruses on ships can repeatedly infect new travelers, researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Control in Bilthoven, Netherlands, found in a 2008 study.

This year, six cruise ships, including Celebrity Cruises Inc.’s Millennium, Solstice and Infinity, have had norovirus outbreaks on board, the CDC in Atlanta said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kanoko Matsuyama in Tokyo at kmatsuyama2@bloomberg.net

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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