January 27, 2020

Research Roundup: Gates Research Institute to develop TB vaccine, scientists begin work on vaccine for new coronavirus, and world is reliant on handful of companies to combat AMR

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Nguyen Phu Cuong

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GlaxoSmithKline has licensed a promising tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate to the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute in an effort to advance this vaccine for use in low- and middle-income countries. The institute will lead further development of the vaccine candidate and sponsor future clinical tests. The vaccine candidate, developed in collaboration with IAVI, was shown in mid-stage testing to be effective in approximately half of the people who were vaccinated for as long as three years. The only licensed TB vaccine that currently exists—called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin—prevents severe disease in infants and young children but gives limited protection to adolescents and adults. TB infects about 10 million people annually, killing about 1.5 million.

A new research group at the National Institutes for Health (NIH) tasked with conducting human trials for vaccines against emerging health threats will be testing the first of likely many experimental vaccine candidates against the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan China late last year. They hope to have a vaccine ready to test in just three months’ time. Chinese scientists quickly identified the genetic sequence and posted it publicly, allowing scientists to begin vaccine development without waiting for a sample of the virus. NIH scientists are now working with US biotech Moderna Inc. to develop an RNA-based vaccine, while additional candidates are in development by other funders and companies. According to Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci, three months from gene sequence to initial human testing would be the fastest the agency has ever gotten such a vaccine off the ground. As of Friday, Reuters reports more than 800 people in China have been infected with the new coronavirus and 26 have been killed. Cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.

According to a report by the Access to Medicine Foundation, the world is “precariously reliant” on a small number of pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics, running the risk of a rise in superbugs. The biennial Antibiotic Resistance Benchmark report, which looks at pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance, found that only a core group of eight drug firms are developing antibiotics and that the pipeline of new products is very small. This report echoes a warning from the World Health Organization last week that a lack of private investment and innovation in the development of new antibiotics is undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections. Drug-resistant infections are predicted to kill 10 million people annually by 2050 if drug resistance continues to grow at its current rate—meaning that, increasingly, the treatments we rely on to kill infections are not working, and new ones are needed.