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Hague, Netherlands: In what can be termed as a milestone in the fight against tuberculosis (TB), a vaccine by pharma major GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) could be the first new jab against the infectious disease developed in a century.

At present, Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), which was developed in 1921, is given to children to prevent the infection in many countries, including India, which reports the maximum number of TB cases every year. However, the protection by BCG wears off in few years, leaving people unprotected against the infection.

“Although BCG saves many lives, it has one big limitation. It has little impact on TB in adolescents and adults," according to Thomas Ottenhoff, professor of immunology, Leiden University Medical Centre, Netherlands. “TB kills more than 4,50,000 people everyday. Any vaccine on TB can be a game changer."

Marie-Ange Demoitie, vaccine project leader for TB at GSK, said the “company was working on the vaccine relentlessly for 20 years".

She was speaking on the sidelines of 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Hague, where the preliminary results for a new TB vaccine were presented.

The study showed that the vaccine could cut the number of people developing TB by half compared to those who didn’t receive the vaccine. The results of phase II clinical trials recorded an efficacy rate of 54% in adults.

The vaccine is designed to halt latent TB from becoming active. An estimated 1.7 billion people have latent TB.

“Since 2014, researchers have been studying the protective effect of the vaccine (M72) in 3,500 people in three endemic African countries, including Zambia, South Africa and Kenya," according to Demoitie. The trials included participants aged 18-50 years.

The primary results of the study were also published in reputed medical journal, New England Journal of Medicine ,in September 2018.

The experimental vaccine by GSK has been designed in partnership with non-profit organisation Aeras, backed by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

GSK is now looking at joining hands with other firms for additional clinical research. “First we need to understand the result of the clinical study. We have been discussing this with other people and we need to find the way forward to make it sustainable care," she further told Mint in an interview.

To ensure that promising vaccine candidate gets developed and ultimately delivered to the population who are being threatened by TB, partnerships are needed , underlined Ann Ginsberg, senior technical adviser, International AIDS vaccine initiative (IAVI).

“These results are truly game changing for this field. The modelling has already shown that it had 50 percent effective vaccine such as this one appears of be could save millions of lives and tens of billions of cases of TB while being cost effective. This is the first real progress in terms of TB vaccine and potential of controlling the epidemic since BCG around 100 years ago. To ensure the ultimate impact of this vaccine, we need to build new types of collaborations, this can’t be done by any one company".

According to the Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases’s scientific director Dr Paula Fujiwara, an effective vaccine is essential to meet the United Nations’ target of ending TB by 2030. “We need much more more: in terms of investment, TB research in the government needs to be drastically stepped up...better diagnostics, better drugs and effective vaccine".

Experts say the vaccine is crucial for high burdened countries like India. India accounts for 27 per cent of the global estimated cases and 25 per cent of the estimated deaths due to TB. “Having a vaccine for adolescent and adults will help India tackle the disease and reduce the transmission," Demoitie further added.

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