Here's a new-and-hot from the home front...a TB vaccine candidate developed right here at the University of Oxford is now entering a new phase of clinical trials. The vaccine, called MVA85A/AERAS-485, is entering Phase IIb proof-of-concept clinical trials, which is the furthest along any TB vaccine candidate has made it in 80 years! The vaccine will be administered to 2,784 infants under one year of age in South Africa, just outside of Cape Town. All of the infants will have received the BCG vaccine at birth. BCG is currently the only existing vaccine for TB, and it is administered to infants in the developing world and in some developed countries. Its efficacy against pulmonary TB is highly variable, however, and a new TB vaccine is certainly needed. The new vaccine candidate is thought to augment the response of T cells that are already stimulated by the BCG vaccine. Past clinical trials in adults have taken place in the UK, The Gambia, and South Africa, and all have shown consistently high immune cell responses in adults who have been vaccinated first with the BCG vaccine. I was surprised that clinical trials have received approval to be carried out on infants in a developing country - a very at-risk population - but I presume this means the vaccine has already passed several safety tests, does not present great risk to infants, and holds a great deal of potential.
While the vaccine was originally developed by Dr. Helen McShane of the Jenner Institute at Oxford, several organizations are now on board. I was particularly interested to see the wide range of organizations partnering to take the vaccine forward. The organizations include the Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium Ltd, the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, Isis Innovation, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Cape Town (UCT). Aeras is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CDC, and several foreign ministries. The Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium Ltd is a partnership between the University of Oxford and Emergent Product Development UK Ltd. This impressive list of organizations shows all the various partners that are needed to take a vaccine candidate forward; the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation are providing funding, while Isis Innovation is in charge of intellectual property and is providing licensing and the technology transfer, and the Consortium and universities are conducting the trials.
According to Dr. McShane, this vaccine candidate is the most exciting advance in TB research in the past 80 years. Unfortunately, the results are not expected until 2011. In the meantime, for some good reading about current global health research at Oxford, check out the Jenner Institute's website; the link is http://www.jenner.ac.uk/index.html. They even have a page on Edward Jenner!
Here are some links to pages with info about the TB vaccine:
An interview with Dr. McShane: http://www.jenner.ac.uk/vaccine_prog_humantuberculosis.html