The discovery of vaccine antigens through whole genome sequencing (WGS) contrasts with the classical hypothesis-driven laboratory-based analysis of microbes to identify components to elicit protective immunity. This radical change in scientific direction and action in vaccine research is captured in the term reverse vaccinology. The complete genome sequence of an isolate of Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B (MenB) was systematically analyzed to identify proteins predicted to be secreted or exported to the outer membrane. This identified hundreds of genes coding for potential surface-exposed antigens. These were amplified, cloned in expression vectors and used to immunize mice. Antisera against 350 recombinant antigens were obtained and analyzed in a panel of immunological assays from which 28 were selected as potentially protective based on the -antibody dependent, complement mediated- serum bactericidal activity assay. Testing of these candidate vaccine antigens, using a large globally representative strain collection of Neisseria species isolated from cases of disease and carriage, indicated that no single component would be sufficient to induce broad coverage and that a "universal" vaccine should contain multiple antigens. The final choice of antigens to be included was based on cross-protective ability, assayed by serum bactericidal activity and maximum coverage of the extensive antigenic variability of MenB strains. The resulting multivalent vaccine formulation selected consisted of three recombinant antigens (Neisserial Heparin Binding Antigen or NHBA, Factor H binding protein or fHbp and Neisseria Adhesin A or NadA). To improve immunogenicity and potential strain coverage, an outer membrane vesicle component obtained from the epidemic New Zealand strain (OMVNz) was added to the formulation to create a four component vaccine, called 4CMenB. A series of phase 2 and 3 clinical trials were conducted to evaluate safety and tolerability and to estimate the vaccine effectiveness of human immune responses at different ages and how these were affected by various factors including concomitant vaccine use and lot-to-lot consistency. 4CMenB was approved in Europe in 2013 and introduced in the National Immunization Program in the UK starting from September 2015 when the vaccine was offered to all newborns using a 2, 4, and 12 months schedule., The effectiveness against invasive MenB disease measured at 11 months after the study start and 5 months after the second vaccination was 83% and there have been no safety concerns.
Keywords: 4CMenB vaccine; Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B (MenB); antigenic variability; cross protection; reverse vaccinology; strain coverage.