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[JOHANNESBURG] Researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa are playing a key role in the development of a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine, following South Africa's lead, a meeting in Johannesburg heard last week (20 March).

At the meeting, held before World TB Day (24 March), researchers launched a blueprint on TB vaccine research for the next decade, and discussed the role the country and the region will play in TB vaccine research.

South Africa has the second-highest incidence of TB worldwide, which makes it an appropriate place to test new vaccines. There are 1,000 cases per 100,000 people in South Africa, compared with around 200 in India and less than 100 in China, according to David Mametja of the South African Department of Health.

He added that South Africa has the highest number of TB cases per capita in the world.

Each year, there are about nine million new cases of TB and 1.5 million deaths. Most countries where the disease is endemic give children the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, but this does not protect adults from pulmonary TB, the most common and infectious form of the disease.

There are 15 vaccines in clinical trials, and many more in preclinical stages of research and development.

Hassan Mahomed, co-director of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), said it was "important for Sub-Saharan Africa to take the initiative and develop a vaccine … There are excellent scientists in South Africa who understand the epidemic and can conduct research".

Gavin Churchyard, chief executive officer of the Aurum Institute, a non-profit research organisation based in South Africa, agreed. "South African researchers are playing a leading role internationally in research and diagnostics," he said.  

South Africa is collaborating with nine other institutions in Africa. For example, SATVI has formed partnerships for clinical trials with research institutions in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda.

SATVI, according to Mahomed, is leading the way in South Africa.

"We have tested five vaccine candidates and have led eight vaccine trials," he said, adding that phase 2A clinical trials are currently being conducted on one vaccine candidate MVA85A — with results expected early next year.

"This is the first time we'll have efficacy results, to determine if this trial prevents TB. We'll be making history," said Mahomed.