A global blueprint on tuberculosis (TB) vaccines that maps out key research and development priorities for the next decade has been published today in a special issue of the journal Tuberculosis.
TB kills around 1.5 million people and infects 9 million others annually. Researchers hope to eliminate the disease by 2050 but, to do so, they say new vaccines will be needed in addition to better therapies and diagnostics.
'Tuberculosis Vaccines: A Strategic Blueprint for Tuberculosis Vaccine Development' builds on conclusions reached at the Second Global Forum on TB Vaccines in Tallinn, Estonia in 2010, which brought together leading experts and stakeholders in TB vaccines.
The blueprint was produced and endorsed by the Stop TB Partnership Working Group on New Vaccines - a partnership hosted by the WHO, which includes nearly 1,000 partners around the world, including the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and pharmaceutical companies.
It highlights five priorities for progress towards developing safe, effective vaccines, and the key steps required in each of these priority areas. These range from enabling creativity in research and discovery, to achieving a better understanding of the disease, more rapid vaccine development, and novel approaches to test vaccine efficacy more quickly.
Late-stage clinical trials, whose price and logistics are "major hurdles" to vaccine development, need to be harmonised and better coordinated between all stakeholders, it says.
Global criteria for selecting only the very best vaccine candidates also need to be established.
Finally, the blueprint calls for the building of political support for vaccine research through advocacy and media engagement, and the use of these avenues to "lay the groundwork for acceptance and adoption of new TB vaccines once licensed".
"The most important point is that we really should go now to a global coordination of our efforts, [of] both donors and developers, to make sure that the best vaccines come out in the end," Jelle Thole, co-editor of the blueprint and director of the TuBerculois Vaccine Initiative, told SciDev.Net.
He added that the blueprint represented a consensus view of the global TB vaccine community, and said that one body that could oversee global harmonisation of research in this field is the Stop TB Partnership.
"The plan comes at a time when we have a really promising pipeline of TB vaccines ... The blueprint defines what the next steps should be," Thole said.
He explained that the document is aimed at donors, the general public and affected communities so that they know "there is now a global effort to do something about this terrible disease".
Aeras, a non-profit TB vaccine development organisation involved in drafting the blueprint, announced last week (15 March) that it will receive US$220 million over five years from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new TB vaccines.
But Aeras's director of communications Annmarie Leadman told SciDev.Net this would cover only about half of what Aeras alone anticipates it would need.
"This is a huge, generous show of support, but really our overriding message is much more is needed," she said.
Michael Brennan, senior advisor for global affairs at Aeras and a co-editor of the blueprint, told SciDev.Net that estimates show that around US$1-2 billion a year will be needed over the next five years to fund TB vaccine research. Present levels of funding are only around US$78 million a year.
Mel Spigelman, president and chief executive officer of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, which was not involved with developing the blueprint, praised the TB community for joining forces to "agree on and advance a common vision for the future of this field".
He added that the field of TB research had suffered from decades of neglect and that all areas of TB R&D remain "grossly underfunded". He also noted that governments have reduced their funding for new research into neglected diseases.
"But ignoring TB won't make it go away - we need new tools to stop this global killer," he said.
Tuberculosis doi:10.1016/S1472-9792(12)70005-7 (2012)