The first advanced clinical trials in South Africa for a tuberculosis vaccine is expected to be complete by early next year, scientists said Tuesday.
Even if the vaccine fails to work, the clinical trials will make medical history because the data collected will provide more understanding about the world epidemic that the World Health Organization has said claims around 1.5 million lives and infects 9 million others annually South African researcher Dr. Hassan Mohomed said Tuesday at the launch of a new global drive to find a vaccine, according to Associated Press.
Researchers and scientists led by the health organization Stop TB Partnership unveiled a “blueprint” to develop a new vaccine to tackle TB transmission in countries and communities most affected by the illness.
The new strategy calls for collaboration between scientists to test for new vaccine candidates and to coordinate fun-raising for large and expensive human trials.
“To develop a new TB vaccine that will be fully effective, researchers, donors and other partners will need to collaborate and coordinate their efforts as they address tough research questions,” said Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership in a statement released on Tuesday. “We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by either the costs or the obstacles. It is time to be bold and dare to do more in TB, especially in supporting the development of a new vaccine."
Scientists say that because many people in countries like India, Russia, China and South Africa infected with tuberculosis show the capacity to spread drug-resistant strains of the deadly disease, it has spawned a global search to find a new vaccine.
The South African health department said on Tuesday that the country has the second highest rate of TB infection in the world after Swaziland, a small country located in southern Africa, and that TB is the biggest killer of HIV-positive South Africans, where nearly one in five adults has HIV.
“The TB Vaccine Blueprint provides an enormous opportunity to coordinate efforts to halt the spread of this devastating disease,” said Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Health of South Africa, in a statement. “Governments have an important role to play, and guided by this common strategy we will do our part to make a vaccine a reality.”
Experts say that TB can be transmitted by a simple cough, and that the bacteria that causes the illness constantly mutates to develop resistance against drugs that attempt to treat it. It is estimated that India had 73,000 cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis among notified cases, while China had 66,000, Russia 31,000 and South Africa 9,600, according to a 2011 report based on 2009 figures by the WHO.
Mike Brennan, an adviser to the U.S.-based Aeras nonprofit TB research group, said the new global strategy to eradicate TB comes after “tremendous progress” already made in the past decade.
“We began ten years ago with an empty clinical pipeline, and we have made astounding progress,” Brennan said in a statement released on Tuesday. “But we have to persevere. Given the trends we are seeing globally, failure to develop effective new vaccines for this disease puts everyone at risk.”
The South African clinical trials and research in other countries now mark “a rallying point for one of the world’s deadliest diseases” that includes strains resistant to traditional drugs, he said Tuesday at the launch of a new global drive to find a vaccine, according to the Associated Press.
“It’s like building a house. We have the plans, we need builders to bring the finance and workers to bring the tools,” Brennan explained.
Brennan said that if clinical trials over the next three years fail, researchers will still gain understanding of where the mistakes or gaps in their research lie.
“The new Blueprint represents the best thinking of the field,” said Dr. Jelle Thole, director of the TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative and co-editor of the Blueprint with Brennan in a statement. “It makes clear that the next 10 years will be vital in moving forward the global search for a dramatically improved vaccine against tuberculosis.”
The strategic blueprint for the TB vaccine was published on Tuesday in the journal Tuberculosis.