Candidate TB vaccines languishing in lab, say scientists

Candidate TB vaccines are ready to be tested but poor resources are keeping them in the lab Copyright: TDR

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[TALLINN] Potential tuberculosis (TB) vaccines are languishing in developing country laboratories because there is no money to move them to the clinical trial stage, an international TB vaccine conference has heard. 

Some developing country scientists — notably in China and Mexico — have successfully produced vaccine candidates, and are ready to start testing them in clinical trials. But the lack of resources and capacity may hamper their efforts, experts have said.

In Mexico, there are four groups researching candidate vaccines, Bruno Rivas-Santiago, head of one of the groups, and a researcher at the Mexican Social Security Institute, told SciDev.Net. But the government has not provided enough funding, he said, which is slowing progress.

Yolanda Lopéz-Vidal, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said her research team has used genomic approaches to identify several vaccine candidates. The results of animal studies are promising but the group lacks funding to take it to the next stage — clinical trials in humans.

Mexico has a history of manufacturing its own BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine, the limited vaccine in use today, and has a high incidence of TB. In some areas up to four per cent of people die of the disease. So it would be beneficial — and technically possible because of the availability of a test population — to design and manufacture a new vaccine in Mexico, Lopéz-Vidal said. In general, TB vaccine testing faces a major obstacle because of the low, though widespread, incidence.

In China several vaccine candidates are ready to enter clinical trials following a productive decade with more than 40 published papers on TB vaccines, Douglas Lowrie, a researcher at Fudan University in China told SciDev.Net.

But the country lacks the capacity, he said, including both clinical laboratories and trained staff in the western parts of the country where the disease is most common.

"The government has to resolve to support clinical trials," said Lowrie, arguing that the resulting development of capacity would have broad benefits.

"There would be a tremendous knock-on effect because the quality of healthcare would go up, with motivated people working to a high standard, the healthcare infrastructure would improve and there would be healthcare benefits."

In India, although there is funding available for TB research and the country has the pockets of high TB incidence necessary for clinical trials, so far vaccine research is lacking.

Bindu Dey, an adviser in the department of biotechnology at the Indian Ministry of Science and Technology, said she knew of only one vaccine candidate in clinical trials, and this is aimed only at preventing infection developing into disease.

Institutions from China, Cuba, Malaysia and India all have at least one TB vaccine candidate in the pipeline, according to the Stop TB Partnership’s ‘Tuberculosis Vaccine Candidate — 2009’ report.