Hopes for a new TB vaccine build in South Africa

A South African toddler is still in good health a year after she became the first patient in the most advanced TB vaccine study in the world so far.

Experts hope the vaccine will help eliminate the disease that affects around nine million people each year with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa experiencing a particularly high disease burden.

Sixteen-month-old Janenique Pienaar and her mother, Janie Pienaar, 21, met the British designer of the new vaccine, Dr Helen McShane, at the University of Cape Town’s SA Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (Satvi) trials clinic at Brewelskloof Hospital in Worcester, South Africa this week.

Based at Oxford University’s Centre for Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine in the UK, McShane’s visit coincides with the vaccination of 1,392 babies, the half-way mark for the number of infants involved in the trial.

The Phase 2b study tests the safety and efficacy of the new TB vaccine, MVA85A/AERAS-485, and the response of babies’ immune systems to it.

One of the partners of the study are the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation who received an £8 million grant from the UK Department for International Development earlier this year.

Janenique was just a few months old when she became involved in the study. She underwent a rigorous screening process which included blood tests, a complete medical history and a check of her liver, kidneys and blood flow to ensure that all were functioning properly.

Since the initiative’s inception, half the participants have been injected with the vaccine and the other with a placebo to rule out any possible bias.

Pienaar, a farm worker, who lives with her daughter in a corrugated iron house in Stofland, said: “I am very proud that my child is healthy.”

The current TB vaccine, the BCG, has been in use since 1921 and has limited effectiveness against the disease, particularly against pulmonary TB. It is believed to be effective in protecting children from the most dangerous forms of TB such as TB meningitis.

As part of our advocacy work on tuberculosis, RESULTS has been working hard to raise awareness about the need for new tools including vaccines, drugs and diagnostics to help address the global TB epidemic. This news from South Africa is extremely positive as a new, more effective vaccine is going to be crucial if we want to eliminate the disease once and for all.

A final report with results of the vaccine trial will be completed in early 2012, after participants have shown results of possible immunity.

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