Progress toward a New TB Vaccine: TBVI Annual Reports

by Rachel Stelmach, RESULTS Global Legislative Intern

As a swing dancer, I can definitely appreciate the 1920s; its fashion, music, and dancing are brilliant, and I’m glad they’ve stuck around. But 1920s medicine? Not so much. One of the most distressing facts in the current fight against tuberculosis (TB) is that no new vaccines have been invented since this period. The current vaccine, BCG, was developed back when Jay Gatsby was sipping champagne and only offers limited protection against the most common forms of pulmonary TB.

Fortunately, though, there are organizations working hard to create a new TB vaccine. One of these groups is Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI), a Netherlands-based international research organization. Last week, TBVI released their annual report, which highlights progress toward their goal of producing a licensed TB vaccine by the end of the decade.

The report describes the many roles of TBVI in the process of vaccine development, from advocacy and fundraising to research assistance. I was glad to see their multi-faceted approach toward the development of a new vaccine; while the development of new technologies is extremely important, it is only one piece of a complicated puzzle to get a new TB vaccine produced and made available to those who need it.

TBVI has made tremendous progress towards assembling this puzzle. Last year, TBVI teamed up with the US-based group Aeras to create a ten-year roadmap towards a new TB vaccine, which coordinates the technical, operational, and advocacy goals of TB researchers over the next decade. On the technical side, TBVI and its international research partners have made great progress, with seven vaccine candidates in trials and more on the way. One of the areas they’ve highlighted, though, is the importance of increasing public awareness of the threat of TB is the most important, and it here that I believe the most work is needed.

In much of the developed world, there is definitely still a perception that TB is an old-fashioned disease; no one worries about dying of “consumption” any more. This report, however, highlights the danger of that perception and points to the growing TB epidemic in the EU.

If the soonest we can expect a new vaccine is the end of the decade, support for TB efforts is more important than ever. TBVI’s work on vaccine development is a greatly appreciated and necessary part of those efforts, but as they themselves state, there is also a need for advocacy work that will bring TB back into the public consciousness. Without that public awareness, it is unlikely that the necessary political and financial support will arrive. If TBVI and its allies succeed in their stated goal of increased advocacy and broader public support, however, the specific short-term goal of a new vaccine by 2020 and the long-term goal of fighting the spread of TB seem very possible.