A Financial Boost For The Search Of New TB Vaccines

In a new fillip to the much needed TB Vaccine research, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given a grant of 3 million dollars to TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI), a non-profit organisation that supports the development of new vaccines against tuberculosis. The award spread over 3 years will help TBVI to support the development of several TB vaccine candidates and contribute to the fight against this deadly disease.

“Wonderful progress has been made in the field of TB vaccine research over the past years. But we are not there yet,” says TBVI’s director Jelle Thole. “Now more than ever, we need to keep investing to make sure we can guide some promising vaccine candidates through the consecutive stages of development. We’re grateful that the Gates Foundation decided to make this possible and continue their support to us.”  Currently there is only one vaccine against tuberculosis available worldwide: the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. This vaccine, used since 1921, can protect children well from severe forms of childhood tuberculosis, but provides very limited protection against lung/pulmonary tuberculosis, the most prevalent and most contagious form of the disease in adults. Moreover, there are serious safety concerns regarding the use of BCG in HIV infected newborns.

More effective and safe vaccines are urgently needed to keep the disease under control and to realize the ambitious goal of eradicating TB from the face of the earth: vaccines to boost BCG, to replace BCG, and to protect latently infected people from developing the disease. Without more effective vaccines, it is highly unlikely to stem the march of tuberculosis as it keeps taking its toll. Tuberculosis, an ancient disease and one of the deadliest infections in the world, takes almost 2 million lives every year. Nearly 9 million new cases are diagnosed annually, and it is estimated that one third of the world’s population carries a latent infection and is in danger of developing active disease later on. The economic burden of the disease is estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The rise of drug resistant forms of the disease, that are difficult and expensive to treat, makes tuberculosis even more of a threat. Vaccines – generally accepted as and proven to be both a very efficient and cost-effective way of preventing infectious diseases – can make the difference. 

Modelling studies show that without new vaccines TB is unlikely to be eliminated. New vaccines, together with more accurate diagnostics and more efficient drug therapies could save millions of lives and would make a huge impact in the fight against TB resulting in a steep and steady decline in the number of cases, eventually eliminating the disease. Vaccines will also be especially crucial in combating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), forms of TB that are expensive and extremely difficult to treat. 

As of now there are around 40 new vaccine candidates facilitated by TBVI, through its network of over 50 research institutes and universities, which are in different stages of development; from laboratory stage till various phases of clinical evaluation. With this new grant several vaccine candidates can be compared and evaluated in a head-to-head fashion, to ensure only the best, safest and most effective vaccines will continue their development. The most advanced vaccine candidate under the TBVAC project is currently being tested for efficacy in a Phase IIb study. If successfully tested in further clinical stages this vaccine, according to TBVI, could hopefully be licensed by 2017.

The grant also allows the manufacturing and evaluation of one vaccine candidate in a Phase I clinical trial. This candidate will be selected through an open call for proposals that will be launched at the end of June. To ensure rapid delivery of new vaccines to the world, long-term, dedicated investment is crucial. The grant to TBVI will therefore also be used to continue some of the resource mobilisation, advocacy and communications activities.  

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also authored a book on childhood TB (2012), co-authored a book (translated in three languages) "Voices from the field on childhood pneumonia" and a report on Hepatitis C and HIV treatment access issues in 2011. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org) 

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
Spy Ghana News, Accra, Ghana
Congoo.com, US