TB Vaccine Trial Results: A Launching Pad for Further Research

February 4, 2013 – The ACTION global health partnership applauds the completion of the first efficacy trial of a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine in 90 years, and looks forward to further analysis on how results can guide the development of TB vaccines.

According to data published today in the Lancet, the vaccine candidate was found to be safe and well-tolerated, but not effective in preventing TB disease in infants.

“Finding an improved TB vaccine is one of medical research’s most important missions,” said ACTION Director Kolleen Bouchane. “Ending TB has never been more urgent and we can’t stop now. We must redouble our efforts, using these results as a launching pad for further research and development.”

The clinical trial of TB vaccine candidate MVA85A was a Phase IIb trial that tested the candidate’s safety and efficacy in 2,797 infants living in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Sponsored by Aeras, the trial was conducted by the University of Cape Town’s South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI).

The vaccine was administered as a boost to the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) – the currently used TB vaccine that is given routinely to infants in countries with high rates of TB. Protection, however, wears off in just a few years, and does not work against the most common form of TB that affects the lungs.

Finding a safe and effective TB vaccine has never been more urgent. TB is an ancient disease, yet it kills 4,000 people every day, while virtually incurable, drug-resistant strains of this airborne killer are increasingly spreading around the globe.

While MVA85A was not successful in protecting infants from TB, we do not need to start back at square one. The trial has provided important information about how the body’s immune system protects against the disease – knowledge that can quicken the selection of other vaccine candidates and clinical trials.

Developing vaccines is an incredibly difficult and long-term undertaking, and TB is starting late to the game. The scientific community, with the generous support of such funders as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has only become fully engaged in developing a TB vaccine within the last decade. Now the pipeline of TB vaccines  features more options than ever before; aside from MVA85A, 12 vaccine candidates are undergoing clinical trials worldwide.

But TB research and development faces an annual funding gap of $1.4 billion. The public and private sector must join forces to stimulate innovation and provide the long-term investment needed to carry these potential vaccines through development.

We must remember that after the HIV virus was isolated, it took 12 years for an effective treatment to be developed. Research and development takes time and dedication, but with money well spent we can save millions of lives.