LONDON (Reuters) - The first new vaccine against tuberculosis in more than 80 years has entered mid-stage trials in South Africa, where the killer disease is rife, scientists said on Saturday.
If the tests are successful, a new shot against M. tuberculosis (TB) bacteria could be available within eight years.
The vaccine was developed by researchers at Oxford University, who are now studying it in Phase II studies in the Western Cape. Despite widespread vaccination, one in 100 infants in the Western Cape suffers from TB disease, underscoring the need for better prevention.
The current standard vaccine for TB is Bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, which provides some protection against severe forms of the disease in children but is unreliable against pulmonary TB, the most common type.
TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the world's most deadly infectious disease, killing around 1.7 million people a year, and the emergence of strains that are resistant to antibiotics has increased the problem.
"The rise in the number of cases of multi-drug resistant forms of TB plus the increasing number of cases of TB in people living with HIV means a new vaccine is essential," the vaccine's co-developer, Dr Helen McShane, said.
"We can no longer rely on antibiotics to treat the disease -- we need to help the body's immune system prevent disease."
McShane and her colleagues received funding for their trials from the Wellcome Trust medical charity, which provides cash for research that is of potential benefit to public health but has not yet secured financing from commercial backers.
The new vaccine, known as MVA85A, works in tandem with the BCG shot and acts as a booster to the older vaccine. Previous tests have already shown it produces a very high immune response but the key is to show it actually prevents disease.
The vaccine's developers declined to comment on the possible future involvement of major drug companies in the programme. Leading vaccine producers include GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Merck & Co.