By: Karen Midthun, M.D.
Over the last year and a half, there have been numerous reports about outbreaks of bacterial meningitis on several college campuses. Invasive meningococcal disease is a life-threatening illness caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis that infects the bloodstream (sepsis) and the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). N. meningitidis is a leading cause of bacterial meningitis, which can have devastating consequences. Between 10 and 15 percent of people who develop meningococcal disease die from the infection, and another 10 to 20 percent suffer permanent complications, such as brain damage or limb loss.
There are five main serogroups of meningococcal bacteria that cause illness: A, B, C, Y and W. FDA has previously approved other vaccines to prevent invasive disease caused by serogroups A, C, Y and W, but they do not protect against meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B, which is the serogroup responsible for the recent outbreaks. These outbreaks underscore why it’s so important to have vaccines that can prevent meningococcal disease.
FDA recently used several strategies to approve Trumenba, the first vaccine licensed in the United States to prevent invasive meningococcal disease caused by serogroup B. This included use of the accelerated approval regulatory pathway, which allows the agency to approve products that provide meaningful therapeutic benefit to patients over existing treatments for serious or life-threatening diseases, based on evidence that the product has an effect that is reasonably likely to predict clinical benefit. The use of this pathway reduces the time it takes for needed medical products to become available to patients.
Trumenba also received breakthrough therapy designation. This designation facilitated the development, scientific evaluation, and approval of the vaccine. In particular, it provided the manufacturer with more intensive FDA guidance on an efficient vaccine development program, and an organizational commitment involving senior FDA managers. It also provided for a “rolling” submission of the Biologics License Application, which allows for sections of the application to be submitted to FDA for review as they are completed, without waiting to submit the complete application at one time.
FDA also designated this application to receive priority review. I am very proud of the extraordinary effort by FDA review staff to thoroughly evaluate the safety and effectiveness of Trumenba and approve it in record time. Our scientific staff worked tirelessly to complete their evaluation in well under the usual six-months timeframe for priority reviews. My colleagues worked closely with Pfizer, the manufacturer, to address this critical public health need.
We are committed to making important medical products available to people who need them. The approval of Trumenba is just one example of the outstanding work by dedicated FDA staff.
Karen Midthun, M.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research