South Africa: Best Paper Award for UCT TB Vaccine Research

Promotional image from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (file photo).

The International Society for Vaccines (ISV) has selected a publication in which the University of Cape Town's (UCT) Professor Mark Hatherill, Professor Robert Wilkinson, Professor Tom Scriba, Dr Michèle Tameris and Dr Friedrich Thienemann (Faculty of Health Sciences) played a key role, as the best paper of the year for 2019.

The paper, titled "Final Analysis of a Trial of M72/AS01E Vaccine to Prevent Tuberculosis", appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine (Tait et al, 2019). The research reported on the efficacy and safety of the M72/AS01E tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate, showing that it was able to protect 50% more participants who received the vaccine against developing TB at the end of three years than those who received a placebo.

This plaudit follows recognition by the ISV of another paper co-authored by these researchers reporting the two-year primary analyses of the same vaccine trial (Van der Meeren et al, 2018) as the best paper in the previous year.

Background

Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) kills more people worldwide than any single infectious pathogen, yet the only vaccine licensed against TB, the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, is approaching its centenary. The BCG, despite offering highly variable protection against adult type pulmonary TB, affords consistent protection to infants against more serious forms of TB.

The 2019 paper reported the final results of a three-year study of the M72/AS01E protein-subunit vaccine candidate, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. The study was conducted at 11 sites in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia, including the UCT-based South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI) and the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa.

"Developing a vaccine that protects this group from disease progression could be a game changer."

The vaccine provided 50% protection against progression from MTB infection to TB disease in latently infected adults. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 23% of the global population is infected with MTB, and in high disease-burdened areas, this figure can be as high as 80%.

People with latent TB are therefore an important group for new TB control strategies because they are at risk of progressing from infection to active TB disease later in life. Developing a vaccine that protects this group from disease progression could be a game changer because prevention is better than cure.

Given the scale of the global TB epidemic and the slow pace of TB control efforts, the development of an effective TB vaccine is needed urgently to achieve End TB campaign targets.

Read more about the ISV Paper of the Year.

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