49th Union World Conference on Lung Health: First promising TB vaccine candidate in 100 years needs more resources, researchers say

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Science Speaks is covering the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in The Hague, Netherlands this week.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – When the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa in 2014 and took more than 11,000 lives in two years, public and private organizations mobilized the development of a vaccine in a year and a half. That vaccine now is being used to control the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In comparison, it’s taken 100 years to see any progress in the development of a vaccine to prevent tuberculosis, a disease that kills 4,000 every day, Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership said here. Even now, it remains uncertain that a new vaccine will see the light of day, she said, as more funding has yet to be secured for larger-scale trials to confirm the promising results of the M72 vaccine candidate.

The M72 vaccine candidate, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Aeras, appears to have reduced the incidence of active TB disease among HIV-negative adults by 54 percent, which Ann Ginsburg with IAVI described as game-changing. “Modelling has shown that a 54-percent effective vaccine could save millions of lives and avert tens of millions of cases while being cost effective,” she said.

The study, conducted in Zambia, South Africa and Kenya with 3500 subjects, must be confirmed and expanded on, Ginsburg said. More research is needed to understand why there is increased protection for people under the age of 25 – in the trial, subjects under 25 saw an 82 percent reduction in TB disease, versus 10 percent reduction in subjects over 25.

“We need to confirm the results, explore the durability of protection,” Mark Hatherill of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative said. “We need to explore how the vaccine performs in other populations, subgroups, age groups, and different geographies with different HIV and TB epidemics,” he said.

To do that, Ginsburg said, “we need innovative partnerships, and a whole new model of collaboration involving companies, product development partnerships, scientists, governments, other funders, advocates and affected communities.”

A representative from GSK agreed, saying “in order to build a sustainable business model, we need to work together and have strong partnerships.”

Lucica Ditiu is already looking to the future. “We need to think now about how to best scale up a new vaccine and prepare for ensuring access,” she said.

“Without the money, we won’t get the vaccine,” Ditiu said. “It will be a shame for us as a humanity to not buckle up and further develop this innovation.”

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