GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines group is heralding a “scientific breakthrough” on tuberculosis, pointing to hard evidence that an experimental jab of theirs can protect roughly half the people that get it.
TB is a fierce challenge in the vaccine field. The currently available vaccine BCG typically isn’t given to adults because it’s rarely effective in anyone other than children. So when GSK cites a 54% efficacy rate it may be far from perfect, but it represents a major leap forward in guarding against more than a million deaths a year from tuberculosis.
And it’s particularly important as new strains of drug-resistant TB circulate among the hundreds of millions of people who carry a latent infection.
Researchers recruited 3,573 HIV-negative adults in three countries where latent TB is common: Kenya, South Africa and Zambia. In the arm that received M72/AS01E, 10 ended up developing pulmonary TB. In the placebo arm, there were 24 infections. The vaccine still has a long way to go before it can be used, with larger trials ahead to test efficacy and safety.
GSK’s vaccine group has had some major advances since the pharma giant swapped assets with Novartis in 2015. They scored a big win with the approval of Shingrix, a likely blockbuster badly needed in a company where pharma R&D has been a sore disappointment for the past decade.
“These initial findings represent a significant innovation in the development of a new and much-needed vaccine and advance the scientific understanding of tuberculosis,” says Emmanuel Hanon, who runs the global vaccines arm of GSK. “This scientific breakthrough – one of the very few in tuberculosis vaccine development for almost 100 years – has been made possible by our strategic partnership with Aeras, in which GSK is providing the innovation expertise and technology platforms, such as the proprietary AS01 adjuvant.”
Aeras CEO Jacqui Shea said that fielding an effective vaccine would be “the most impactful new intervention to end the global tuberculosis epidemic.”
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