New announcements bring hope to the fight against TB

Last week saw a number of significant announcements in the area of vaccine development; some good news for those suffering from tuberculosis (TB) and other deadly infectious diseases.

On January 29th, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a commitment of $10 billion over the next 10 years to the research and development of new vaccines. This is in addition to $4.5 billion the Foundation has already committed to its disease portfolio. This considerable investment is a significant pledge towards providing life saving vaccinations, with the potential – the Gates Foundation claim –  of saving the lives of more that 8 million children by 2020. With 2 million deaths from TB annually, the hope is that a significant amount of this new funding will be committed to scaling up research and development of an effective TB vaccine.

The drugs, diagnostics and vaccines currently available for TB are up to a century old and only partially effective. With multi- and extensively drug-resistant TB strains on the increase, presenting a serious threat to public health globally, there is an urgent need for new TB tools. However, a report of disease R&D funding released last year reported that funding for TB research tapered off in 2008 and the bulk of the funding is now generated through philanthropic organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Governments and the private sector also now need to step up and match the considerable investment from the Gates Foundation towards vaccine development, as well as ensuring that investment in R&D for new diagnostics and treatment is also increased.

Also reported last week were positive results from clinical trials conducted in Tanzania, showing a new vaccine against tuberculosis (Mycobacterium vaccae (MV)) is proving effective in preventing TB in people living with HIV. Findings from the trials, which were conducted by the Dartmouth Medical School in the US, will be published in AIDS, the leading journal in the field of HIV/AIDS research. TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV and without treatment 90 per cent of co-infected people will die. HIV-positive patients are highly vulnerable to TB because of their weakened immune systems, therefore there is a real need to ensure that people living with HIV have access to early diagnosis and treatment, and preferably in the future preventative vaccines to guard them against contracting the disease in the first place.

Let’s hope that these positive steps are the first in a concerted, global effort to step up the fight against TB so that effective diagnostics, treatment and vaccines are made available to those most vulnerable and at risk. For the 9 million people currently infected with TB, this investment is a matter of life and death.

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