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“Doing Quality Work, With Rigor”: Designing the Next Generation Pneumococcal Vaccine

Dr. Heather Platt discusses the process of developing V116, a pneumococcal vaccine that targets the serotypes most prevalent in those 65 years and older.

At this week’s International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases (ISPPD) in Toronto, Merck presented phase 2 data for its investigational pneumococcal vaccine.

The vaccine candidate, V116, is designed to prevent invasive pneumococcal disease in adults 50 years and older. The 21-valent vaccine targets serotypes that cause 85% of pneumococcal disease.

Heather Platt, MD, is one of the clinical leads for V116 and was instrumental in the phase 1/2 study. In an exclusive interview with Contagion, Platt explains the need for a highly protective pneumococcal vaccine for older adults, as well as her drive to fulfill unmet medical burdens.

“We don’t design a vaccine and then look for a problem,” Platt said. “We look at what’s happening in the world and see how can we address that problem.”

Adults 65 year and older and children under 5 years of age are the 2 age groups most susceptible to pneumococcal morbidity and mortality. However, the former have the highest disease burden.

“When we see a large burden of disease, it gives us a target,” Platt said. “There’s an opportunity to positively impact public health.”

Platt noted Merck has a long-standing involved in this vaccine research space, with their first pneumococcal vaccine approved in 1983. Today, they are working to expand vaccine efficacy for those most vulnerable to pneumococcal disease by formulating V116 with the serotypes most prevalent in older adults. To inform their selection of serotypes, Platt and her team utilized US and global pneumococcal surveillance data.

“We’re hearing from all people around the world about what the burden of disease is,” Platt said. “What data are they sharing that can help us shape what we do next?”

On Wednesday, Vaxneuvance (V114), Merck’s pneumococcal vaccine for infants and children, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The shot protects against 15 Streptococcus pneumoniae serotypes, and was the first valent conjugate pneumococcal vaccine approved for children in close to a decade.

For V116, Merck plans to start phase 3 trials next month. “We are excited to see that we have the potential to have a positive impact with this vaccine, and for a population that needs protection,” Platt emphasized.