At a time of growing global concern about the rising level of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis in South Africa and worldwide, the world's top TB vaccine experts are meeting this week, the first time this scientific forum has been held in Africa, where they will present new research aimed at advancing development of vaccines against the deadly airborne disease.
In coming to Cape Town, the international TB research community recognizes the role of South Africa as a nation with a high-burden of disease, but also as a leader among emerging market nations in innovation and scientific research in the global battle against TB.
Among the new findings being presented at the conference are the results of modeling study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine that suggest new efficacious TB vaccines for adolescent and adults could alleviate up to 67 million cases and 8 million deaths by 2050 in the 22 high-burden countries and is cost effective.
Further research results show that within the remit of vaccine research the medium term needs of countries such as South Africa are likely to be best served by developing and testing vaccines that would be effective in adolescents and adults. New TB vaccines are essential if high TB burden countries are to meet the 2050 TB elimination goal.
South African Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, who will open the international conference, has set a path for South Africa that includes ambitious targets to reduce tuberculosis in his nation, where TB incidence has increased by 400 percent over the past 15 years.
"We must be innovative in our approach to TB treatment and diagnosis, which is why I have made deployment of a faster new diagnostic tool a priority for the nation. New, more effective vaccines must also be part of the solution and I am committed to supporting their development led by the world's leading researchers, many based right here in South Africa," says Motsoaledi.
The economic burden of TB weighs heavily on entire nations where the disease is endemic; in parts of Africa it exacts its greatest toll on individuals during their most productive years, from 15 to 44 years of age.
"In the Worcester areas, where our field research is conducted, we meet families who are eager to participate in the search for new TB vaccines, because they live with the consequences of TB every day," says professor Willem Hanekom, director of the South African Tuberculosis Initiative (SATVI) of the University of Cape Town, the host of the Third Global Forum on TB Vaccines. "Their commitment to the search for TB vaccines is a testament of the terrible impact of TB on our community. At SATVI, we are proud to be applying the absolute best that science has to offer to develop and deliver new TB vaccines for South Africa and for the rest of the world."
The Third Global Forum on TB Vaccines is convened under the auspices of the Stop TB Partnership, an initiative of the World Health Organization and brings more than 250 scientists, researchers and TB advocates from all over the world on the heels of World TB Day. The World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria last week called for global action to fill a $1.4 billion annul gap for TB research and development, "including clinical trials for new TB drugs, diagnostics and vaccines."
"TB elimination can only be possible with intensified research and development particularly for new vaccines," says Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's Stop TB Department. "This area has a major funding gap and we need a wake-up call to investors to accelerate research efforts to make a potent TB vaccine a reality."
The conference will be held one year after the launch of a new global framework for TB vaccine development. It will provide a rich setting to strengthen collaboration and review progress in several areas including basic research, immunology, and clinical research in TB vaccine R&D.