New vaccine and drug combo offer hope against world’s biggest infectious killer
CNN : It’s been around for centuries and has been curable for decades, but the bacteria behind tuberculosis are still the biggest infectious killers across the planet — killing more people annually than HIV.
Last year, an estimated 10 million people developed tuberculosis, with 1.6 million dying from it, according to the World Health Organization, despite an effective treatment. Access to diagnosis and treatment is challenging, particularly in more deprived communities, and over the years, incomplete treatment courses have fueled the rise of resistance.
Rates of new infections have been falling each year, but at a pitiful rate — just 2% per year — and experts in the field began to feel hopeless, drained and fed up by what should so easily be beaten.
That is until a special trial, beaming the number “54,” woke them from resignation and gave the first signs of hope in years.
The number stood for a percentage — 54%. It meant that a tuberculosis vaccine that crosses a coveted efficacy threshold may soon be possible — and effective.
The vaccine, known as M72/AS01E, has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline and is the first vaccine of many recent attempts to show more than 50% protection against people developing TB, as published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Although the desire is 100% protection, experts believe more than half is enough efficacy to have a significant impact on new infections, possibly saving millions of lives and preventing 10s of millions of cases.
“I can’t tell you the excitement,” said Paula Fujiwara, scientific director at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, also known as the Union.
“This is a hopeful place,” she told CNN during the Union’s 49th annual conference this week, in the Hague, Netherlands, where this and many other prevention options are being presented. “This could really help millions of people.”
Many countries have had routine Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccinations, known as BCG, for tuberculosis for decades. Many adults received them as teens, for example in the UK, and now babies living in high-risk populations receive them as newborns. The vaccine is not generally recommended for use in the United States because of low risk of infection.
So why the desperation for a new vaccine? BCG has some deficiencies, made evident in recent years — it’s only really beneficial to very young children and its protection doesn’t continue into your adult years.