A vaccine invented at the University of Guelph to protect against Campylobacter jejuni – one of the leading bacterial causes of food-borne illness in the world – has just been approved for human clinical trials by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to a university announcement.

Campylobacter image/CDC
Campylobacter image/CDC

It’s the first U of G technology to reach this testing phase. “It’s very rare that you have a discovery go this far,” said chemistry professor Mario Monteiro. He developed the sugar-based vaccine at U of G, working with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center. Currently, no vaccines exist for this pathogen.

Phase 1 is now in progress and is expected to run until January 2015; human clinical trials can take several years to complete.

“U of G and Dalton Pharma — who manufactured the cGMP grade vaccine — are proud to be part of the Ontario team providing key expertise in biotechnology research and manufacturing,” said David Hobson, manager of technology transfer at the University’s Catalyst Centre.

The vaccine is a conjugate containing polysaccharides from C. jejuni. In a 2009 peer-reviewed study, it proved 100-per-cent effective against diarrheal disease in monkeys. For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page.

 Monteiro studies polysaccharides, or complex sugars, on bacterial surfaces, and is one of the world’s few researchers working on such sugar-based vaccines.

He also works on carbohydrate-based vaccines for Clostridium difficile, and collaborated with master’s student Brittany Pequegnat on a carbohydrate-based vaccine against Clostridium bolteae, a gut bug common in autistic children.

“It’s very satisfying that what you do with your hands, with chemistry, can have a positive impact for global health,” Monteiro said.

“It’s cool – that’s the word I use with my kids in the lab – that something you made, other people want to take it, use it and test it to help people. That’s what I tell my students. It helps keep the excitement going.”

Campylobacter is a bacterium that can also be found, with not quite the frequency as in chicken, in healthy cattle, birds, raw milk, and contaminated water.

Most cases of campylobacteriosis are associated with eating raw or undercooked poultry meat or from cross-contamination of other foods by these items. Infants may get the infection by contact with poultry packages in shopping carts. It is also possible to get infected from the feces of an infected pet cat or dog. It is the leading cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States, more than Salmonella and Shigella combined.

It doesn’t take a lot of this organism to get you ill. In some studies it showed that as little as 500 organisms can cause disease in some individuals. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says that you can get infected from one drop of juice from raw chicken meat.

Campylobacter jejuni, the species most often implicated in infection causes diarrhea, which may be watery or sticky and can contain blood and white blood cells. Other symptoms often present are fever,abdominal pain, nausea, headache and muscle pain. The illness usually occurs 2-5 days after ingestion of the contaminated food or water. Illness generally lasts 7-10 days, but relapses are not uncommon (about 25% of cases).

There can be complications associated with campylobacteriosis; they include arthritis and neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. It is estimated that the latter is seen in one out of every 1000 cases of Campylobacter.

Most cases of Campylobacter are self-limiting and do not require treatment. However severe cases can be treated with antibiotics to shorten the length of the disease.