New vaccines, drugs needed for TB fight - WHO study


  • World
  • Wednesday, 08 Aug 2007

By Michael Kahn

LONDON, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Health workers will need new vaccines and drugs to bolster tuberculosis treatments in order to meet a goal of eliminating the disease by 2050, World Health Organisation researchers said in a study on Wednesday. 

The analysis highlights the need for new vaccines and drugs to wipe out the vast reservoir of dormant infections and to work alongside treatments that target people with active forms of the disease, the researchers said. 

A Thai nurse seen tending to a tuberculosis patient from Myanmar in northwest Thai town of Mae Sot in this May 23, 2007 file photo. Health workers will need new vaccines and drugs to bolster tuberculosis treatments in order to meet a goal of eliminating the disease by 2050, WHO researchers said in a study on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)

Tuberculosis is second only to HIV/AIDS as the world's most deadly infectious disease, killing 1.7 million people each year, and the emergence of strains resistant to antibiotics has worsened the problem. 

But tuberculosis is curable and groups like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have set a target of 2050 to wipe out the disease, said Chris Dye, an epidemiologist at the WHO, who worked on the study. 

Using mathematical models, the researchers determined that treatments consisting of getting infected people on a course of drugs as quickly as possible are not enough to meet that goal. 

"The main way health officials around the world go about attacking tuberculosis is by putting in place these effective treatment programmes," said Dye, who along with his colleague Brian Williams published their findings in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 

"The question we ask is whether that is going to be enough to eliminate it by the end of the century. Based on the mathematical modelling the answer we get is it is not going to be possible." 

GREATER IMPACT 

The study, which excluded Africa because many of the tuberculosis infections there stem from HIV/AIDS, showed adding vaccines and new drugs targeting latent infections into the treatment mix could be up to seven times more effective. 

While seemingly obvious that a wider range of approaches is a good thing, Dye said the models show the benefits could have a much greater impact than thought. 

The first new vaccine against tuberculosis in more than 80 years has entered mid-stage trials in South Africa, but Dye said much more is needed. 

The standard vaccine for tuberculosis 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. 

Dye said he hoped the findings that show the benefits of combined treatments would spur governments, the pharmaceutical industry and financial donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to spend more money on fighting the disease. 

"People are working on developing new vaccines and other drugs but how quickly we get these tools depends on how much people invest and that will depend on how much of a benefit they think it will make," Dye said. 

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