Urgent need for tuberculosis vaccines; experts report progress, obstacles in growing drug resistance

October 15, 2012

Drawing on recent findings of a significant rise in cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the UK and globally, top TB researchers at a briefing today in London called for greater focus on the quest for new vaccines—a crucial long-term, cost-effective method for addressing the growing threat.

The event at the Science Media Centre follows the release of troubling new research published in The Lancet in August suggesting that levels of are higher than previously appreciated, leaving few options for patients with drug-resistant TB. TB is already the world's second leading infectious killer. The WHO estimates that 9 percent of cases of multidrug-resistant TB in fact have extensively drug-resistant TB for which even fewer drugs are effective, and The Lancet study revealed that rates of XDR-TB ranged from 0.8-15.2% of MDR-TB cases at study sites across the world.

"Vaccines are the ultimate long-term, cost-effective solution for addressing tuberculosis," said Helen McShane, PhD, Professor of Vaccinology, University of Oxford, and developer of the vaccine candidate that is furthest along in clinical trials. "It is important that we continue to develop better drugs and diagnostics to help us rapidly diagnose TB and identify drug-resistant strains, but we must invest in vaccine research now if our ultimate goal is to be able to prevent the disease rather than forever chase growing drug resistance with new drugs."

McShane was joined at the London briefing by Ann Ginsberg, MD, PhD, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at Aeras and Tim McHugh, PhD, Professor of Medical Microbiology, University College London. The three scientists are working on the frontlines of efforts to combat the disease, which killed an estimated 1.45 million people in 2010—the equivalent of the populations Birmingham and Liverpool combined.

In the last decade, Ginsberg said, TB has made dramatic strides. The number of TB vaccines in clinical trials has grown from zero to more than a dozen. MVA85A, the vaccine developed in McShane's laboratory, is the most clinically-advanced TB in the world. The first efficacy results are expected early next year based on the outcome of a clinical trial in South Africa, carried out at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative with support from Aeras, The Wellcome Trust, the European Commission, Emergent BioSolutions and the Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium.

"Vaccines that prevent adolescents and adults from developing infectious tuberculosis would be the single greatest advance in the global fight against the disease," said Ginsberg. "Much of the most exciting discovery work is happening in the United Kingdom and Europe with significant leadership and support from the UK government."

UK and Global TB Trends

More than half of all reported are in Asia, most of them in India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia. South Africa has the highest rate in Africa, which accounts for 26 percent of the burden of disease globally.

In 2011, the incidence rate in the UK rose 6.6% over the previous year and London, which is home to almost 40 percent of all cases in the UK according to a report released in July by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, has been dubbed the "TB Capital of Western Europe."

Globally, has grown because of misuse of anti-TB drugs, poor management of the disease and transmission of drug-resistant cases from person to person; and the impact of the disease on health systems and national economies is only beginning to be felt, McHugh said. In the UK, the total number of cases of drug-resistant TB has risen by more than 50 percent in the last decade.

"Treatment for MDR-TB is more expensive than for drug-susceptible TB, and is protracted lasting up to two years, the drugs used are unpleasant with significant side effects" McHugh said. "In many settings, clinicians are unable to diagnose MDR-TB rapidly, increasing the risk of patients spreading the drug resistant strains while receiving treatment that may be ineffective against the infection."

Studies regarding MDR-TB, such as the one published in The Lancet on August 30, confirmed what researchers have been seeing in their laboratories and clinics.

"The development of new treatments and diagnostics are vital for treatment of individuals infected with drug- of TB," McHugh said. "But drugs alone will not control the spread of TB and investments in vaccines are essential to protect the wider community."

Once known as "consumption" for the slow wasting away of people who die from it, tuberculosis is one of history's great global killers. One out of every three people globally is thought to be infected by the airborne TB organism, although a much smaller number will go on to develop the disease.

Explore further: Management of TB cases falls short of international standards

Related Stories

Management of TB cases falls short of international standards

February 9, 2012
The management of tuberculosis cases in the European Union (EU) is not meeting international standards, according to new research.

China faces 'serious' epidemic of drug-resistant TB (Update)

June 6, 2012
China faces a "serious epidemic" of drug-resistant tuberculosis according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of the size of the problem there, said a US-published study on Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

September 22, 2017
Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause a variety of illnesses that range from mild nuisances like strep throat to life-threatening conditions including pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome and the flesh-eating disease formally known ...

Ecosystem approach makes urinary tract infection more treatable

September 22, 2017
The biological term 'ecosystem' is not usually associated with urinary tract infections, but this should change according to Wageningen scientists.

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

September 22, 2017
Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily ...

Superbug's spread to Vietnam threatens malaria control

September 21, 2017
A highly drug resistant malaria 'superbug' from western Cambodia is now present in southern Vietnam, leading to alarming failure rates for dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-piperaquine—Vietnam's national first-line malaria treatment, ...

Individualized diets for irritable bowel syndrome better than placebo

September 21, 2017
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who follow individualized diets based on food sensitivity testing experience fewer symptoms, say Yale researchers. Their study is among the first to provide scientific evidence for this ...

Investigators may unlock mystery of how staph cells dodge the body's immune system

September 21, 2017
For years, medical investigators have tried and failed to develop vaccines for a type of staph bacteria associated with the deadly superbug MRSA. But a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators shows how staph cells evade the ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.