Leading the way with Hia: Vaccine for the deadly infection gains traction

Scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continue to make great strides in creating healthy communities. A prime example is Dr. Raymond Tsang, a PHAC scientist at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, and his work on a new experimental vaccine for Haemophilus influenza serotype a (Hia).

Hia is a potentially deadly infection that can lead to pneumonia, meningitis, septic arthritis and bloodstream infections. It is especially dangerous to at-risk children and immunocompromised adults.

Dr. Raymond Tsang, Senior Research Scientist, National Microbiology Laboratory

Dr. Raymond Tsang, Senior Research Scientist, National Microbiology Laboratory

In 1988, a vaccine was created for its cousin strain, Haemophilus influenzae serotype b (Hib). These days, Hib is uncommon due to routine childhood Hib vaccination programs in Canada. Hia became an emerging infectious disease in the late 1990s. It has become a significant cause of invasive diseases largely in Indigenous northern populations in North America with around a 10% mortality rate.

After seeing a significant increase in Hia cases,
Dr. Raymond Tsang pursued a vaccine to prevent the disease.

PHAC has been working with the National Research Council (NRC), the Canadian Institute of Health Research and Health Canada together with representatives of First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups to develop a Hia vaccine for prevention of this deadly infection.  

How was the vaccine made?

Step 1: PHAC scientists identified and characterized a strain of the bacterium to be used for the clinical production of the vaccine.

Step 2:  NRC researchers figured out how to grow the bacterium in a steel fermentation tank.

Step 3: After they grew the bacterium, they separated the part that was needed for the vaccine and attached it to a carrier protein that allows it to be recognized by the immune system of infants.

Biologist, Michelle Shuel, working with Hia genes on a thermocycler.

Biologist, Michelle Shuel, working with Hia genes on a thermocycler.

Next stage of development:

Now that an experimental vaccine has been developed, it has been licensed to InventVacc Biologicals Inc. for manufacturing in preparation for clinical trials. Clinical trials are expected to begin by 2020, and if successful, the vaccine will be available by 2022. After five years of development, this life-saving innovation will contribute to preventing deadly infections for infants at risk of Hia in Canada.

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