Reuters NewMedia - January 17, 2012
HONG KONG, Jan 17 (Reuters) - China's top vaccine maker is
teaming up with Aeras, a leading non-profit anti-tuberculosis
institute, to design a new vaccine against TB when the world is
fast running out of drugs to fight the disease.
The collaboration between China National Biotech Group (CNBG) and
United States-based Aeras will cost "hundreds of millions of
dollars" and both partners hope to offer a weapon that will
protect against even drug-resistant strains of the bacterium.
The tie-up coincides with the discovery in India of what some
doctors have described as cases of totally drug-resistant TB,
which were not treatable with any available drug.
TB is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis and destroys lung
tissue, causing victims to cough up the bacterium, which then
spreads through the air and can be inhaled by others.
"Our cooperation with Aeras includes vaccine design, pre-clinical
research, clinical trials, production and sales," CNBG president
Yang Xiaoming told Reuters in a telephone interview. "The ideal
vaccine should guard against all strains of TB, including
Aeras president and chief executive Jim Connolly said both
parties would screen through their catalogues and identify the
most promising vaccine candidates, move to pre-clinical studies
and then clinical trials in the next few years.
"From where we are, to develop a TB vaccine in China is going to
take at least seven to ten years," Connolly said. "The cost to
develop vaccines ultimately goes into tens if not hundreds of
millions of dollars, both in direct costs of developing it as
well as the costs of all the failures."
Aeras chose to work with China because of its significant TB
burden and after it identified TB, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis as its
top three infectious diseases.
"They have a very strong emerging technical capability and the
government has financial resources," Connolly said.
TB BACK WITH A VENGEANCE
An ancient, long-neglected disease, the world has had no new
vaccines or drugs to fight TB for decades even though it is still
a leading killer. In 2010, 8.8 million new cases were reported,
with 1.45 million deaths from TB worldwide.
It was not until about 20 years ago that drugmakers began paying
attention to the disease when it re-emerged in developed
countries in patients whose immune systems were wrecked by AIDS.
Worse, drug-resistant TB strains have risen in prevalence,
yielding cases that are nearly impossible to treat.
In India recently, 12 patients in Mumbai failed to respond to all
first- and second-line drugs such as isoniazid, rifampicin,
amikacin, capreomycin, and kanamycin. Manufacturers of TB drugs
include Eli Lilly & Co, Sanofi SA, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen
Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer Inc , Bayer AG and many producers of
The only vaccine against tuberculosis is Bacillus Calmette-Gu�rin
(BCG), which is 90 years old and the efficacy of which is in
doubt. It works to some degree to protect against serious disease
in infants and babies, but does nothing to protect teenagers and
adults among whom most incidents occur. There are now more than
10 candidate vaccines being developed and trialled.
Connolly said clinical trials for their candidate vaccine will
include patients from China, India and sub-Saharan Africa, home
to most of the world's TB sufferers.
"This is not developing vaccines just for China, but also to be
used in other parts of the world," he said, adding that the
product would be affordable to patients everywhere.