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[BEIJING] China has joined forces with Aeras, a non-profit product development organisation, to start developing vaccines for tuberculosis (TB).

The China National Biotec Group (CNBG), the country's largest biotechnology corporation, signed the final agreement with Aeras earlier this month (10 January).

CNBG is the country's only producer and supplier of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which is currently the only vaccine against TB. However, the BCG vaccine does not prevent pulmonary TB, which is the most common form of the disease.

In the past decade, efforts to develop new vaccines have intensified and it is hoped that, this decade a vaccine will be developed that will revolutionise TB control.

The collaboration will be "managed, conducted and monitored to ensure that the new TB vaccines meet international standards and can be used by people in China and other developing countries", Xiaoming Yang, president of CNBG, told SciDev.Net.  

"[It] will bring together our expertise in biological products with Aeras's strength in TB vaccine research and development, which should significantly accelerate the development of international-standard TB vaccines," he said.

The ideal vaccine should guard against all strains of TB, including drug-resistant strains. "We are trying several approaches for TB vaccine development; the eventual vaccines produced depend on the outcomes of the joint TB programme," Yang said.

He explained that new vaccines resulting from the collaboration will be supplied primarily to developing countries. Although the price of the vaccine cannot be specified at present, as it depends on the production costs, Yang explained that it should be affordable for developing countries.  

"Aeras welcomes our comprehensive new partnership with CNBG, which will accelerate the development of TB vaccines in China," said Jim Connolly, president and chief executive officer of Aeras. "This partnership will be critical in developing new vaccines to save lives globally."  

"Aeras is at the forefront of the vaccine development pipeline, while CNBG reflects a growing Chinese biotechnology industry that can bring new technologies not only to reduce the burden of TB in the country but also to give an important boost to global TB control," said Fabio Scano, medical officer in the Stop TB Department at the WHO, Geneva.  

"The cooperation reflects the growing influence China will have in developing and manufacturing affordable new vaccines for the developing world," said Julia Hill, former vaccines policy advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières, said.