UCT study tests new TB vaccine strategy

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Cape Town – A recent University of Cape Town (UCT) study tested and confirmed the safety and feasibility of a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccination strategy for HIV-exposed infants.

According to UCT, the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is the most widely used vaccine and is given to children who have a higher risk of contracting TB.

The BCG vaccine improves a child’s immune system, so it can fight the germs that cause TB and prevent a serious TB infection. Usually, BCG is given as a prime vaccination, without a follow-up injection.

This new study tested a new concept, where the candidate vaccine (MVA85A) was administered first as a prime at birth, followed by a BCG as a boost.

“When multiple vaccines are administered, the vaccination strategy is referred to as ‘prime-boost’, where the prime vaccine is the first one administered and it initiates an immune response, this is then boosted by the second vaccine,” said Dr Elise Nemes, senior scientist at UCT’s South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI).

“We found that MVA85A was safe and induced an early modest immune response that did not interfere with, or enhance an immune response induced by a subsequent BCG vaccination. This study tested for safety and immunogenicity only, a larger study would be required to test for protection again TB,” Nemes added.

Even though the TB vaccine research has gained momentum in recent years, there are still major obstacles, UCT said in a media statement.

It has been suggested that a new generation of TB vaccines and strategies need to be developed and tested, which would offer greater protection than the currently used BCG and are safe enough to be used in HIV-endemic countries.

In the latest Global Tuberculosis Report, the World Health Organisation explained that there was a huge funding gap for TB care and prevention research.

“An effective TB vaccination strategy is needed for all infants, regardless of HIV exposure,” Nemes said.

Tuberculosis (TB) has remained one of the biggest challenges facing public healthcare systems in low-and-middle-income countries. South Africa was still considered a TB high burden country, with TB being the leading fatal infectious disease, surpassing HIV.

The study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases: An Official Publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, was conducted by a large team of researchers, led by Dr Elise Nemes; Professor Mark Hatherill, principal investigator of the study; Professor Anneke Hesseling from the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre; and Professor Helen McShane from Jenner Institute, Oxford University.

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