TB jab for adults 'very promising' as disease becomes world's deadliest

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TB jab for adults
TB jab for adults 'very promising' as disease becomes world's deadliest

Tuberculosis is overtaking Covid-19 as the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

Experts fear mutant strains resistant to antibiotics could be imported to Britain. TB immunity from the current BCG jab, given to young children, wanes before the teenage years.

British military testing site Porton Down is evaluating several TB vaccine candidates on animals, on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. The Mirror understands ongoing tests using live TB bacteria in its world-leading high containment labs indicate the MTBVAC jab by Spanish firm Biofabri now stands out as a great hope of a breakthrough.

A Porton Down source said: “We have tested every TB vaccine candidate on this site. The MTBVAC Spanish one is very promising.”

MTBVAC is still going through clinical trials but if successful, Biofabri has pledged it will be sold at affordable prices to low and middle-income countries. It follows hundreds of failed TB vaccine trials over the decades.

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TB jab for adults 'very promising' as disease becomes world's deadliestScientists at Porton Down's Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre

No new TB vaccines have been successfully developed in 100 years. By contrast five were developed for Covid in less than two years.

The BCG vaccination is effective against severe forms of the disease, such as TB meningitis in children, but it's not as effective against TB affecting the lungs in adults, so the impact of BCG vaccination on the spread of TB is limited.

Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to TB, however the BCG is no longer routinely offered to pupils in UK secondary schools. It was replaced in 2005 with a targeted programme for babies, children and young adults at high risk.

The World Health Organisation is expected to confirm this year that TB has overtaken Covid as the most deadly infectious disease. The complex bacterial infection is already estimated to have killed 1.6 million people in 2021, around 14% of whom were children.

The disease is one of the 10 leading causes of death worldwide. There were 7.8 TB cases per 100,000 people in England in 2021. The previous year, there were 7.3, compared to 4.7 in Germany and 2.4 in the US.

Two months ago the Mirror reported on a hidden pandemic in a South African slum. It had some of the highest rates of drug-resistant TB in the world. Multidrug-resistant TB kills around one in three of its victims.

TB jab for adults 'very promising' as disease becomes world's deadliestDame Jenny Harries, CEO of the UKHSA, says scientists are continuing to search for the best solution to the growing number of TB cases (Rowan Griffiths / Daily Mirror)

TB requires antibiotics be taken for at least six months, and so is a major driver in antibiotic resistance globally. A working vaccine for adults could avert the need for 42million courses of antibiotic treatment.

MTBVAC is the only live attenuated TB vaccine in the development pipeline, meaning it uses a weakened form of the bacteria, rather than an inactivated form. TB research at Porton Down has been taken over by the UK Health Security Agency which has launched a £405million Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre there.

UKHSA Chief Executive Dame Jenny Harries said: “UKHSA’s Vaccine Development & Evaluation Centre is the biggest independent tester of TB vaccines globally, having already tested over 350 vaccine candidates. We continue to utilise our scientific expertise to evaluate new candidates using our state-of-the-art high containment facilities.

“We are also regularly testing thousands of drug combinations against TB and researching new ways in which we can combine these with vaccines.”

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