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Advancement of a tuberculosis vaccine candidate gets $550 million in funding

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Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday announced a combined funding to advance a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate, M72/AS01E (M72), through a Phase III clinical trial to the tune of 550 million U.S. dollars.

If proven effective, M72 could potentially become the first new vaccine to help prevent pulmonary TB, a form of active TB, in more than 100 years.

Nearly 10.6 million people fell ill with TB in 2021 which saw 1.6 million died. An estimated 4,300 people per day. The disease primarily affects people in low- and middle-income countries, and those at highest risk are often living in poverty, with poor living and working conditions and undernutrition.

According to data, it is believed that nearly a quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, a condition in which a person is infected with the bacterium that causes TB but does not have any symptoms and is at risk of progressing to active TB disease.

“Despite being curable, TB remains one of the leading causes of death in South Africa,” said Nomathamsanqa Majozi, head of public engagement at Africa Health Research Institute. “In the area where I live and work, more than half of all people have had, or will have, TB at some point in their lives. The consequences are devastating, both at a personal and a community level. M72 offers us new hope for a TB-free future.”

The only TB vaccine in use currently, Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), was first given to people in 1921. It helps protect babies and young children against severe systemic forms of TB but offers limited protection against pulmonary TB among adolescents and adults.

“With TB cases and deaths on the rise, the need for new tools has never been more urgent,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Greater investment in safe and effective TB vaccines alongside a suite of new diagnostics and treatments could transform TB care for millions of people, saving lives and lowering the burden of this devastating and costly disease.”

Over 25 years, a vaccine with at least 50 percent efficacy could prevent up to 76 million new TB cases and 8.5 million deaths, avert the need for 42 million courses of antibiotic treatment, and prevent 41.5 billion U.S. dollars in TB-related catastrophic household costs, especially for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, according to the World Health Organization.

(With input from agencies)

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