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Final Issue: Volume 16 Number 51

Published on: 21 December 2006

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Last updated: Volume 15, No.3 (PDF file, 418 KB)

Archives | News Archives 2006: Page 1| 20 January 2005

News Archives: | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003

HPA to collaborate in development of botulinum vaccine with Emergent BioSolutions

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is beginning a two-year collaboration with Emergent BioSolutions in the United States (US) to develop vaccines to prevent botulism. Research and development of these vaccines will be performed at the Agency’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at Porton Down in Wiltshire. Emergent BioSolutions and the HPA will be sharing technology and expertise to develop both toxoid and recombinant botulinum vaccines.
There is currently no licensed vaccine to prevent botulism.

The initial objectives will be the development of both multivalent botulinum toxoid vaccines and multivalent recombinant botulinum vaccines. The botulinum toxoid vaccine under development, which targets a number of serotypes, is derived from a pentavalent botulinum toxoid vaccine previously produced by Emergent. That vaccine has been used in more than 11,000 people for more than 30 years under investigation of new drug applications (INDs) held by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and the US Department of Defense. The toxoid vaccine is manufactured from native botulinum toxin using methods similar to those used for the production of other licensed toxoid vaccines.

The recombinant botulinum vaccine development program targets specific serotypes. This development program will use recombinant technology to express the non-toxic light chain portion of the toxin molecule for use as the vaccine antigen. The light chain recombinant vaccine may possess significant advantages over vaccines based upon the heavy chain portion of the toxin. Initial data has shown advantages in stability, immunogenicity, and the potential for multivalent formulations.

Botulism is a disease caused by the toxins of Clostridium botulinum bacteria (1). These toxins are the most potent known. Botulism is generally characterized by a progressive descending motor paralysis, which affects the shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, respiratory muscles, and legs. If left untreated, death may be caused by paralysis of the respiratory muscles. Other symptoms seen with botulism include double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, and generalized muscle weakness.

Natural outbreaks of botulism are generally due to ingestion of preformed toxin in spoiled foodstuffs (foodborne) (2), contamination of wounds by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, including unsterile injecting practices by injecting drug users (wound botulism) (3), or in the case of infants, by ingestion of the organism, (infant botulism) (4).
Botulinum toxin is of potential use as a weapon because of its extreme potency and lethality, as well as the need for prolonged intensive care among affected people (5). Terrorists have already attempted to use botulinum toxin as a weapon.


1.Botulism. [online] London: Health Protection Agency 2005 [cited 20 January 2005]. Available at <>.

2.PHLS. Two suspected cases of foodborne botulism coincident in time. Commun Dis Rep CDR Wkly [serial online] 2003 [cited 20 January 2005];13 (33): news. Available at <>.


3.HPA. Increased reports of suspected cases of wound botulism among injecting drug users during 2004. Commun Dis Rep CDR Wkly [serial online] 2004 [cited 20 January 2005];14 (35): news. Available at <>.

4.CDSC. Infant botulism: update. Commun Dis Rep CDR Wkly [serial online] 2001 [cited 20 January 2005]; 11 (33): news. Available at <>.

5..Arnon SS, Schechter R, Inglesby TV, Henderson DA, Bartlett JG, Ascher MS, et al. Botulinum toxin as a biological weapon: medical and public health management. JAMA 2001;285:1059-70. Available at <>.