At a Glance

Novartis meningitis B jab makes headlines

Isn't there already a meningitis jab?

Yes, but only for group C meningitis and Hib meningitis. Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics UK - a division of pharma company Novartis - reported last week some encouraging results from trials of a new vaccine for meningitis B.

Is meningitis B really so serious?

It is a horrific bacterial disease, causing a swelling of the brain. There are only around 1,200 cases of it in the UK each year but it kills 10 per cent of those who contract it and disables many others for life. Babies and small children are particularly vulnerable and death can occur very swiftly. However, a large number of the children in this trial seem to have achieved an immunity to it.

Who handled PR for this?

Clew Communications, which is retained by Novartis Vaccines, handled media relations around the trial results. The agency's chairman Chris Mihill led a three-strong team reporting to head of comms Jo Taylor and communications executive Zarina Baloch.

How did they go about it?

Novartis put out a global press release on the trial results, which gave Clew the tight turnaround time of a day or so to rewrite it for a local audience - putting in UK-related statistics and quotes from doctors, for example - and get approval from Novartis medics and lawyers. Explaining the science was a key challenge. There are scores of different strains of the disease, which makes finding a vaccine tricky. The Novartis one contains bacterial surface proteins thought to be in most meningitis B strains.

What was coverage like?

Very good. Most nationals took it along with several broadcasters. The fact that The Independent put it on its front page meant it was mentioned in a variety of outlets' newspaper round-ups too. Clew was helped in making it of interest to the media here because 150 British infants received the new vaccine.

So can this be a commercial product?

That is the hope, but the encouraging results come from a Phase II trial, which means it is early days. The vaccine entered Phase III with hundreds more UK children earlier this year. The Independent's headline 'Meningitis: defeated at last?' probably strikes the right questioning note.

Further information www.novartis.co.uk.

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