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Drug Resistant TB Grows Worldwide, Scientists Search for New Vaccines

Ernie Shannon's picture

More than half a million people worldwide suffer from a strain of tuberculosis resistant to multiple drugs and those numbers are growing by the day.

This startling news has concerned scientists for some time now and has resulted in the release today of a global plan of action by noted researchers in the journal, Tuberculosis. The plan calls for researchers to redouble efforts to develop vaccines capable of halting the spread of the airborne disease. The executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership, Dr. Lucica Ditiu, pulled no punches in outlining the challenge.

“To develop a new TB vaccine that will be fully effective, researchers, donors and other partners will need to collaborate and coordinate their efforts as they address tough research questions.” He concluded, “We cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by either the costs or the obstacles. It is time to be bold and dare to do more in supporting the development of a new vaccine.”

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The World Health Organization estimates that 10 million children have been orphaned by Tuberculosis which translates into at least 10 to 20 million adult deaths around the world in the last decade. The impact of the disease hits underdeveloped regions the hardest and the economic damage can’t be understated either. To tackle those challenges, the global plan calls for “ideal vaccine regimens (that) protect babies at birth from childhood TB and prevent infection with the organism in older children and adults.”

Today, doctors have only one vaccine for children and it has limited ability. Known as Bacille Calmette-Guerin, the drug protects a child for the first years of life, but it doesn’t prevent pulmonary TB that afflicts adolescents and adults. However, scientists are studying why Bacille Calmette-Guerin shields the young more effectively than adults.

Another research effort titled, Tuberculosis Vaccines: A Strategic Blueprint for the Next Decade, calls on nations and health organizations around the world to collaborate in the search for new vaccines. Dr. Jelle Thole, director of the TuBerculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI) and co-editor of the Blueprint with Dr. Michael J. Brennan, senior advisor for scientific and global affairs at Aeras, suggest that effective vaccines will remain out of reach unless the world scales up efforts to solve the scientific puzzles no hindering development of vaccines. The authors say that researchers, scientists, clinicians, advocates in endemic communities, vaccine manufacturers, and governments must work together to find new approaches.

“The new Blueprint represents the best thinking of the field,” said Thole. “It makes clear that the next 10 years will be vital in moving forward the global search for a dramatically improved vaccine against tuberculosis.”

In an editorial written for the Tuberculosis, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and his colleague, Dr. Christine Sizemore noted that along with basic and clinical trial data, recent innovations in systems biology, genomics, and bioinformatics, animal modeling, and immunologic and molecular tools will play important roles in developing safe and effective TB vaccines.