The international PERISCOPE project has been granted a 30 million Euro European subsidy in order to better map the immune response to pertussis infection and vaccination. Although current vaccines against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, provide proper and safe protection against serious illness in the short term, they do not prevent infections with the pertussis bacterium in the long term. In order to guarantee proper protection, more knowledge about the effects of the current vaccines is required. The project is to result in new research models and methods of analysis, which will clear the path to the development of improved vaccination strategies against pertussis.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that can be lethal for unvaccinated infants in particular. Since the introduction of the pertussis vaccine in the National Vaccination Programme in 1957, mortality caused by pertussis has decreased immensely. The first pertussis vaccine was based on killed bacteria; the whole-cell vaccine. Despite its proper function, the vaccine also had some side effects, and a new vaccine was developed in the 1980s and 1990s. This acellular vaccine comprises a limited number of proteins of the pertussis bacterium and presents fewer side effects. In 2005, in the Netherlands the old pertussis vaccine was replaced by this new vaccine.

The vaccine and adaptation of the bacterium

The current acellular vaccine provides proper protection against serious symptoms in infants. However, the new vaccine’s term of protection is shorter than that of the old. The bacterium gradually further adapts and escapes the immune response against one or more components of the acellular vaccine. Due to waning immunity and this adaptation of the bacterium people who have been completely vaccinated may become susceptible for the bacterium again after a few years. Infections usually proceed unnoticed and without any serious symptoms, but may pose a threat to unvaccinated people, infants in particular. For this reason pertussis still remains the most reported bacterial infection in the Netherlands, with between 4,000 and 8,000 cases a year.

Gathering knowledge

The PERISCOPE project will carry out research to explore the differences in the extent and the duration of protection of immune responses induced against the current pertussis vaccine and against the old whole-cell vaccine. In addition, the immune response during pertussis infection will be studied. An important part is the development of new analysis methods in order to measure the protection against pertussis in humans. This research is required to gain a better understanding of how a protective and long-term immune response can be incited. The results of the PERISCOPE project form the foundation for the future development of new pertussis vaccines.

International and public private collaboration

22 renowned European knowledge institutions and companies are involved in the PERISCOPE project. Dutch institutions involved include the Radboud university medical centre (Radboudumc), the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). PERISCOPE thus comprises a special consortium of paediatricians, infectious disease specialists, bioinformaticians and experts in the area of public health, vaccines and the pertussis bacterium. The Radboudumc coordinates the research under the instructions of paediatrics professor Ronald de Groot. The European Union finances the public/private Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) project in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur. PERISCOPE started in the first quarter of 2016 and will run for five years until early 2021.


This PERISCOPE project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 115910. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA and BMGF.