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New vaccines against TB, where do we stand?

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Journalists against TB is honoured to feature a blog post sent by Jojanneke Nieuwenhuis, Associate, Communications, TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI).

A new, promising candidate vaccine against TB has attracted global attention this week. The vaccine has been developed by researchers at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark and should protect against both latent and active infection. So far, the vaccine has been tested on mice in a pre-clinical phase of the research project. It is expected that the vaccine will soon enter a new phase of testing.

The development of new vaccines is considered crucial in the fight against Tuberculosis (TB). The Stop TB Partnership aims to eliminate TB by 2050. In order to reach this goal, it is necessary to combine better diagnostics and improved drug regimens with the development and introduction of new and more effective vaccines. The increasing problem of multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) TB and TB/HIV co-infection makes the issue even more complex and the need for new vaccines more urgent.

The only vaccine currently available is Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG), first used in 1921. The vaccine protects many newborns against severe forms of TB but is not safe for HIV infected babies. Also, BCG provides little to no protection against pulmonary TB in (young) adults, the most common and most infectious form of TB. In the meantime, drug resistant forms of TB are rapidly spreading. These infections are difficult, sometimes impossible, to treat and the cost of treatment is high. New vaccines could not only protect people against these harsh forms of TB but also improve cure-rates.

New vaccines
Research shows that the introduction of a new vaccine could reduce the number of new TB cases by ninety percent within thirty to forty years. Hard work over the past decade is starting to pay of with some promising results but the process of developing, testing and licensing new vaccines is complicated and lengthy. In order to battle TB, several different vaccines will be needed; so-called ‘priming’ vaccines that can be given to newborns and ‘boosting’ vaccines to be used for infants, adolescents and adults. Vaccines should not only prevent people from initial infection, they also have to prevent people with a latent infection from developing into active TB. In addition to this, vaccines have to be safe for HIV-infected people.

From candidate to vaccine
The process of bringing a candidate vaccine from initial discovery to licensed vaccine involves different phases of testing and trying. Many candidate vaccines will not survive this process and therefore dozens of candidates are needed. The TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI) is an independent non-profit foundation. TBVI facilitates the development of new vaccines by giving financial support and bringing expertise to a network of over 40 universities, institutes and industries that have promising candidate vaccines. Currently, TBVI supports a portfolio of 39 candidates that are in different phases of development and testing. The organization is hopeful that two of those candidates could make it to the market by 2020 and another two by 2025. Worldwide, there are about ten candidates in various stages of clinical trials and about 50 more in development.

2050, a feasible goal?
Can TB be eliminated as a global public health problem by 2050? Researchers within the TBVI-network describe this goal as particularly ambitious . However, the introduction of new and more effective vaccines would mean a huge step forward in the fight against TB. For this to happen, ongoing attention and a considerable amount of funding are needed. Still, if new vaccines can enter the market, these investments will be more then justified both from a humane and an economic perspective.

Jojanneke Nieuwenhuis is Associate, Communications, at the TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI)

The views expressed in this blog are entirely of the author.

Written by JournalistsAgainstTB

January 25, 2011 at 5:52 am

Posted in TB and Media

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