'Tuberculosis is a disaster happening every day without being noticed, because nothing really changes. It's as bad today as it is tomorrow. So any vaccine that will have an effect against developing open lung TB in adults, or even against TB infection in people that have not yet developed TB disease or infection, can be a game changer.'
With these words, spoken during TBScience2018, professor Ottenhoff (Leiden University) introduced presentations by researchers from three primate research centres, including BPRC. The TBScience2018 meeting was hosted by the KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation (KNCV-TB) in collaboration with other parties.
This scientific conference focusing on TB diagnostics, TB therapy and TB vaccination was held just prior to the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health. The World Forum in The Hague served as the backdrop for this international tuberculosis conference, which drew 4,000 experts from over 125 countries shortly after world leaders devoted special attention to the fight against TB during the United Nations General Assembly.
Monkeys are best models for research
During TBScience2018, the researchers unveiled their latest results, which represent an important step forward in TB vaccine research. At this press conference ('Towards a TB vaccine'), professor Ottenhoff explicitly cited non-human primates as the best models for preclinical studies. 'In both clinical and preclinical we now show, for the first time in a century, encouraging results. No less than five signals will be discussed today. Two signals from humans, three from preclinical high-end models in a non-human primate.'
Still much work to be done
Simply put, preclinical research is carried out before studies are conducted on humans. Once sufficient evidence for the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment method has been gathered in the preclinical phase, it is possible to move on to costly and long-term human trials. The results of this 'clinical phase' obviously receive the most attention, especially when a new strategy appears to protect against the disease. A major focus point during the conference therefore centred on recent results achieved with a new TB protein vaccine, M72, which could potentially slow the development of TB by up to 50%.
'A great result that gives cause for hope,' according to Frank Verreck, head of tuberculosis research at the BPRC, who nevertheless has reservations regarding the reproducibility of these initial findings. 'The vaccine will not simply become available overnight. The efficacy of M72 must be investigated further. The study will continue for at least another year and more clinical trials will follow. There is still much work to be done. Tuberculosis research with monkeys will also remain extremely important in general, as was highlighted once again during this event. As one of the speakers said, 2018 could turn out to be the year of breakthroughs in TB vaccine research.'