Researchers in South Africa next month will begin trials evaluating a vaccine for TB, a disease estimated to affect one in three people globally.
"The world needs a new TB vaccine because the current one is not really effective in terms of preventing TB and that is manifest in the context of an increasing epidemic," said Gregory Hussey, director of the South African TB Vaccine Initiative.
The most promising vaccine of nine candidates, MVA85A, will be tested among 2,874 children under the age of one. The goal is to register a new TB vaccine by 2015.
"All of the clinical trials conducted to date with this vaccine have shown that it is safe and it stimulated high levels of the type of immune response we believe is protective against tuberculosis," said vaccine inventor Dr. Helen McShane of the University of Oxford.
The current vaccine, Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), was developed in the 1920s. The new vaccine, if found to be successful, will be used as a booster to the BCG shot.
TB primarily is a lung disease but also can affect organs and bones. According to the Global Tuberculosis Institute at the New Jersey Medical School, it kills about 1.8 million people annually, with children and young adults the most vulnerable. The TB infection rate in South Africa is the highest in the world: 948 infections for every 100,000 people.
Persons with HIV infection are particularly at risk, and the World Health Organization says TB is the leading cause of death among HIV-positive persons. Addressing TB has become a priority of several global health initiatives, including the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.