The NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Mucosal Pathogens is an exciting new translational programme that addresses limitations on the long-term effectiveness of existing vaccines through new approaches to interrupting pathogen carriage and transmission in African lower and middle-income countries.  We focus on mucosal pathogens causing pneumonia, meningitis, and neonatal sepsis, which account for more than 2 million deaths each year globally.

The MPRU has forged partnerships with the Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge and Southampton, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, St George's University of London, BUGS Bioscience and Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK with research centres in Malawi, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, The Gambia, Uganda, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, and Nigeria bringing together more than 25 senior investigators with strong ongoing research portfolios. Linking many of the best in the field, the MPRU will take a transformative approach to the prevention of life-threatening disease caused by mucosal pathogens that could not be achieved by individual investigators or institutions.


MPRU Theory of Change


MPRU partner map

Summary of New Activities for the Next 5 Years

Bacteria and viruses that live in our mucus in the nose and back of the mouth – mucosal pathogens – cause conditions such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis in young children and account for over 2 million deaths and substantial disability every year. In Africa, antibiotic resistance (AMR), and the spread of viruses that effect the lungs including coronaviruses, worsen the impact of mucosal pathogens, there by weakening the health systems and damaging economic prosperity. Vaccines can prevent mucosal pathogen infection and spread. The mission of the NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Mucosal Pathogens (MPRU) is to further understand and strengthen the prevention of mucosal pathogens. We will do this by researching new knowledge, and understanding how to translate this knowledge into policy, thus sustaining prevention. This will create broad benefits to the health and wealth of many countries.

In its mission, the MPRU brings together researchers and communities from sub-Saharan Africa (Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda) and the UK (UCL, Cambridge, LSHTM, Edinburgh, Oxford, Liverpool, Southampton, St George’s). It comprises researchers from many different disciplines including lab scientists, mathematicians, doctors, people who do vaccine trials, communities and policy makers. Together, we will improve strategies to prevent mucosal pathogen infection and test new approaches to maximising herd immunity: which will result into the pathogen not spreading anymore because it keeps encountering people who are protected against it.

Already a world-leading partnership with equitable partnerships at its core, the MPRU has established strong foundations within African institutions in the last 3 years, significantly developing research capacity and partnerships with policy makers and communities. Now, it can transition to an African-led partnership with strong community engagement, knowledge translation and implementation.

The MPRU’s impact promises to benefit the health and wealth of nations by redesigning approaches to vaccine protection and herd immunity that are sustainable and can be used in large number of people. To do this, we have identified three main Programme areas (Capacity Strengthening, Research, Communities in Research) critical to delivery of our aims, underpinned by cross-cutting ‘Expertise Hubs’: Advanced Analytical Methods, Vaccine Immunity & Evidence-Policy.


Future Leaders: We will strengthen the career pipeline for emerging African Research Leaders & Early Career Researchers, promoting independent internationally recognised leadership, underpinned by initiatives in research infrastructure & for support staff.


THEME 1 - Improved Disease Intelligence: Focusing on vaccine-preventable bacterial mucosal pathogens, we will use existing & new data to describe pathogen carriage, AMR & how these microbes are transmitted, the importance of the microbiome (the community of microbes that live on and inside the human body) and the impact of routine vaccine programmes. This will inform ways to improve the impact of vaccines and how long their protection lasts.

THEME 2 – Responsiveness to emerging & epidemic threats: We will define the carriage & disease burden of emerging & epidemic bacterial (epidemic meningitis & multi-drug resistant bacteria) & viral (COVID-19) mucosal pathogens and advance testing of new interventions.

THEME 3 - Measures of Vaccine Immunity: We will identify correlates of vaccine protection against mucosal pathogens. This will improve the evaluation of vaccine interventions.

THEME 4 - Molecular Diagnostics: We will refine novel molecular approaches to early diagnosis & characterisation of meningitis epidemics & emerging infections. This will inform emergency vaccine deployment, routine introduction & catch-up campaigns.

THEME 5 - Testing Interventions: With strategic leveraging external support, we will add value to clinical trials of novel vaccine efficacy, schedules & dosing, & the new use of harmless bacteria to interrupt mucosal pathogen carriage.


Community Engagement & Involvement: We will bring community knowledge & experience into the dialogue around vaccines & the generation of herd immunity; introduction of new vaccines; & public health emergencies. Community engagement will be vital to the co-creation of our research.