New Tuberculosis Vaccine Could be a Game Changer

New Tuberculosis Vaccine Could be a Game Changer

While a new vaccine for TB might not see the market for another couple years, researchers are very optimistic it could be hugely helpful in treating TB worldwide.

Researchers recently announced a “revolutionary” new tuberculosis treatment that could have amazing effects on the spread of tuberculosis (TB). The vaccine would provide long-term protection against the disease that kills 1.5 million people every year.

While there are existing treatments and vaccines, they have proven not very effective. The world sees thousands of new cases each year, and many of these are multi-treatment resistant. It has been clear for some time that this disease is dangerous, and spreading.

The team of researchers for the vaccine come from all over the world, and they see the vaccine having incredible potential to help communities around the globe—especially those with high rates of the disease. The new vaccine, which is made up of proteins from bacteria that triggers an immune response, was announced at a global summit on lung health in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad last week.

Why is this One Special?

This new vaccine has already proven to be effective in treating people with TB, but it is showing signs of a protective element too and helping build natural protection.

David Lewinsohn, a TB expert, told the BBC the potential vaccine was a “real game changer.”

“What is really remarkable is that it was effective in adults who were already infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis that is the causative agent of TB,” he said.

He goes on to explain that while most people with Mycobaterium tuberculosis do not develop TB, researchers believe that infection confers a degree of protection. This is exciting, as the new vaccine “has been shown to improve on this natural immunity.”

The Road Ahead

The vaccine has already passed a series of clinical tests, but there are still a handful more tests and bigger trials to go before it can be officially lisenced released. It has been tested on more than 3,500 adults in TB endemic regions of South African, Kenya and Zambia, researchers said.

“Assuming the data holds up in the remaining trials, which seems likely, this vaccine has the potential to revolutionise TB treatment,” said Lewinsohn.

Dr. Lewinsohn estimates that if all goes well, the vaccine should reach people who need it most by 2028. However, this vaccine has already been a long time coming; drug firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been working on the TB vaccine for nearly 20 years.

Tuberculosis treatment testing is not as easy as some other vaccines, according to one BBC article. Researchers say that the vaccine must show efficacy in animals (like mice, guinea pigs, and non-human primates) to progress. But most of the time, “animal models often do not reflect what we would like to see in an effective vaccine.”

For example, in the mouse, TB tends to be an “indolent disease” and researchers might define success as a roughly 10-fold reduction in the number of bacteria in the lung.

While this is encouraging, but for a human child, one tenth of that bacteria concentration still has TB.

The Current Situation

In last year alone, the world saw 10 million people ill with TB, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And TB takes many forms—latent, active, drug-resistant, and others.

Nearly a quarter of the world’s entire population has a latent TB infection. This means that they carry the bacteria in an inactive form, are not ill, and do not transmit the disease to others. Those with latent TB have a five to ten percent risk of developing active TB in their lifetime.

However, the disease is very serious, and if untreated, can be fatal. Because of its deathly mark and its global prevalence, the WHO aims to reduce the number of new TB cases by 90 percent and the number of TB deaths by 95 percent between 2015 and 2035. The new vaccine will hopefully help with this.

The prevalence of TB is highest in the following eight countries, and they account for two thirds of the global TB cases: India (27 percent), China (nine percent), Indonesia (eight percent), the Philippines (six percent), Pakistan (six percent), Nigeria (four percent), Bangladesh (four percent), and South Africa (three percent).

India is most burdened by the disease with more than three million new cases annually. About 100,000 of these cases are multi-drug resistant, according to the WHO. The disease kills 400,000 Indians annually, and it costs the government about $24bn annually.

“We cannot eliminate TB globally unless we end it in India,” said Jamhoih Tonsing, director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease’s office in Delhi.

Other Fact about TB to Know

The BBC article provides the following facts about the disease and its effects on individuals and communities:

  • TB is a bacterial infection spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person.
  • It mainly affects lungs, but I can affect other body parts like abdomen glands, bones, and nervous system.
  • The most common TB symptoms are persistent cough for more than three weeks, unexplained weight loss, fever, and night sweats.
  • TB is difficult to contract, and you need to spend many hours in close contact with an infected person to catch it.
  • TB can be fatal if left untreated, but it can be cured if it’s treated with the right antibiotics over the course of six months.
  • The current, BCG jab vaccine offers protection against TB, and it recommended for babies, children and adults under the age of 35 who are at risk of catching TB.
  • At-risk groups include children living in areas with high rates of TB and people with close family members from countries with high TB rates.

Tuberculosis has been a public health concern for generations, and while there are now more treatments and vaccines than there were a century ago, the disease still takes thousands of lives each year. With the coming vaccine, researchers hope global TB rates can stay down for good.

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