Progress in tuberculosis vaccine research
Jojanneke Nieuwenhuis – CNS
Collaboration and funding are some of the major requirements for delivering new, more effective and safer vaccines
against tuberculosis (TB). This was a much-heard statement during the annual research meeting of the TuBerculosis
Vaccine Initiative (TBVI). 'Challenging' would be an understatement when it comes to describing the WHO's latest plan
for eliminating tuberculosis. Challenging. But certainly not impossible. In fact, TBVI's research partners, many of whom
came together in Switzerland in early February 2011, are carefully optimistic about the past year's advances in vaccine
Dr Christian Lienhardt, who heads the Research Movement of the Stop TB Partnership painted a clear picture. Tuberculosis
research lacks money on every level. Lienhardt happily noted that funding specifically for TB vaccine research has
increased in the past two years but much more support is needed. In that light, it is a great breakthrough that the
European Parliament accepted a resolution to support the research and development of tuberculosis vaccines. An
overwhelming majority of the parliament recently voted tuberculosis vaccine research onto the agenda of the European
Commission, calling upon the commission to explore new funding channels.
Successfully developing a new vaccine seems closer than ever before. A broad collection of candidate vaccines is
currently being researched and several of those have now reached various stages of clinical trials. This collection of
candidates is called the vaccine pipeline and researchers present at the research gathering in Switzerland were very
positive about its content. Lienhardt referred to the pipeline as 'robust' and challenged researchers and other partners
to maintain it.
New vaccines are crucial in the fight against tuberculosis. Research shows that the introduction of a new vaccine could
reduce the number of new TB cases by ninety percent within thirty to forty years. This makes the development of vaccines
an essential part of the Stop TB strategy. Hard work over the past decade is starting to pay off with some promising
results but the process of developing, testing and licensing new vaccines is a complicated and lengthy one. In order to
battle tuberculosis, several different vaccines will be needed; so-called ‘priming’ vaccines that can be given to
newborns and ‘boosting’ vaccines to be used for infants, adolescents and adults. Vaccines should not only prevent people
from initial infection, they also have to prevent people with a latent infection from developing active tuberculosis. In
addition to this, vaccines have to be safe for HIV-infected people.
The process of bringing a candidate vaccine from initial discovery to licensed vaccine involves different phases of
testing and trying. Many candidates will not survive this process and trials are expensive enough to only allow the very
best candidates to enter. Therefore dozens of candidate vaccines are needed. Currently, TBVI supports a portfolio of 39
candidates that are in different phases of development and testing. The organization is hopeful that two of those
candidates could make it to the market by 2020 and another two around 2025. Worldwide, there are about ten candidates in
various stages of clinical trials and about 50 more in development.
Funding is key in this process, however the TBVI research gathering brought up another major requirement for success;
collaboration. Group efforts and partnerships are valued important by researchers. WHO's Uli Fruth is nothing less then
excited about what is happening at this front: "During this meeting, I was delighted to see a plethora of collaborations
that the consortium has stimulated amongst the partners, which in the absence of the TBVI structure would probably not
The goal of eliminating TB by 2050 is particularly ambitious but the introduction of new vaccines would certainly be a
great step forward. Looking at current research progress and the candidate vaccines available, this should be possible.
For this to happen though, ongoing attention, a considerable amount of funding and collaboration of research are
(The author writes for Citizen News Service (CNS) and is an Associate Communications and Advocacy Relations,
TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative – TBVI)