Study results documenting the increasing evolution of tuberculosis strains into superbugs that resist most, if not all, of our best medicines highlight a major issue for those of us engaged in the battle against TB, and we still don't understand the full scale of the drug resistance problem. Without a robust pipeline of new drugs to stay one step ahead, it will be nearly impossible to treat our way out of this epidemic.
Treatment options for patients with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) are limited, expensive, and toxic. Medications for drug-resistant TB cost as much as 200 times more than those for drug-susceptible TB, can cause more severe side effects including deafness and psychosis, and take 18-24 months or more to complete. In the United States, MDR-TB treatment can cost $250,000 or more per patient, and in most low-middle income countries costs can be catastrophic to both the health system and the impacted family.
Aeras is working to accelerate the development of new TB vaccines because, without them, we will not be able to adequately and affordably address one of the deadliest epidemics of our time. A vaccine that could prevent disease in high-risk adolescents and adults would be the single most cost effective way to mitigate the global crisis. Prevention almost always trumps intervention, and in the case where infectious diseases, such as TB, have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, the urgency around prevention becomes even greater.
The past 10 years have seen tremendous progress in TB vaccine development.
There are 12 TB vaccine candidates currently undergoing clinical trials, with results expected early next year from the first proof-of concept efficacy study. Another pivotal proof-of-concept trial is scheduled to begin in early 2013.
It is a given that vaccine development is a complex process that requires patience and determination, but as history has proven vaccines not only prevent disease and save lives, they pay dividends for generations to come.
We remain steadfast to reach our goals, but we will need increased political will and sustained investment to advance the world's most robust pipeline of new TB vaccines since the original BCG vaccine was introduced in 1921.