New times, new tactics: broadening the argument for TB vaccine development

What if no extra funding for tuberculosis vaccine research comes in? To Joris Vandeputte, Vice-President of the Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI), this is an unimaginable scenario. “That would delay the delivery of new vaccines with ten to fifteen years. Or more likely, the most advanced candidates would disappear completely and we would be back at square one.” Dr Vandeputte hosted a seminar about arguments for investment in the development of new TB vaccines at the recently concluded 42nd Union World Conference on Lung Health in France. During the seminar tuberculosis advocates discussed how to broaden the range of arguments that can be used to convince politicians and decision makers to invest in the fight against tuberculosis.

Nearly one and a half million people die from TB every year, leaving millions and millions of children orphaned. Annually, nearly nine million people fall ill with this devastating disease. In people living with HIV, tuberculosis is one of the main causes of death. Still these arguments don’t seem to be cause to provide the needed resources to eliminate the disease.

“TBVI knocked on every door asking for grant money to develop new vaccines. We met friendly and less friendly faces without tangible success. Eventually people told us to create a business case, to show why it is economically responsible to invest in these research projects.” So that is what TBVI did: costs and benefits were calculated, a financial model was designed.  Currently, the organisation is working with European decision makers to try and get the investment plans approved.

“The benefits of investing in TB vaccines are numerous,” explains Mr Vandeputte. “Tuberculosis costs 0.52 percent of the world’s GNI. That may not seem much, but it comes down to a couple of hundred billion dollars. In the WHO European region the cost of TB is over 2 billion euros and in the EU-27 region we calculate the costs to be at least 750 million euros per year. With more new, effective vaccines we can significantly reduce this financial burden and make elimination of tuberculosis by 2050 a reality for the world. As a bonus, developing new vaccines means great innovation and it can boost economies and create jobs.”

TBVI’s funding model, of which Dr Vandeputte was one of the architects, asks European governments to support it so the organisation can leverage money from European institutions such as the European Investment Bank. An amount of 560 million euros, spread over ten years, should be enough to bring one or two vaccines, perhaps more, out of TBVI’s portfolio to a point where private sector can take over. The invested money will be paid back through royalties and exit fees on successful vaccine candidates.

“It’s a huge challenge,” admits Joris Vandeputte. “But we have to get this done. TB is a real threat and a serious financial burden. Without investment in new tools, we will not be able to eliminate the disease. We now have a strong portfolio with a variety of promising vaccine candidates. TBVI is ready to take the next step. We ask advocates to cry out that new tools to eliminate tuberculosis can become a reality by the end of this decade, if we invest now.”

Jojanneke Nieuwenhuis
(The author is an Associate Communications and Advocacy Relations, TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative - TBVI)

Published in:
Citizen News Service(CNS), India/Thailand
Elites TV News, California, USA