Tuberculosis vaccine hopes dashed


Prof Helen McShane, from the University of Oxford, who developed the vaccine, said that the trial provided valuable information despite the setback.

A major trial of a new booster vaccine has ended in failure, marking a major setback in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).

It was the first big study in infants since the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was introduced in 1921.

BCG is only partially effective against the bacterium that causes TB, which is why several international teams are working on new vaccines.

The latest, known as MVA85A, failed to protect babies who had already had BCG.

The trial, in South Africa, involved 2,794 healthy children aged four to six months, half of whom received MVA85A and the rest a placebo.

They were followed up for an average of two years.

The researchers, reporting in the Lancet medical journal, found 32 cases of TB in those who had received the vaccine compared with 39 in the placebo group.

This gave an effectiveness of 17%, which is so low as to be statistically non-significant.


Designed to boost the immune responses that have been primed by the BCG vaccine, MVA85A has been undergoing human trials for more than a decade, showing it to be safe and to stimulate a high level of immune response in adults.

Prof Helen McShane, from the University of Oxford, who developed the vaccine, said: "[It] induced modest immune responses against TB in the infants, but these were much lower than those previously seen in adults, and were insufficient to protect against the disease.

"This is the first efficacy trial of a new TB vaccine since Bacille Calmette-Guérin, a significant step in itself, and there is much that we and others can learn from the study and the data it has produced."

In an accompanying editorial Christopher Dye, of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Paul Fine, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said although the results were disappointing they were "not a terminal prognosis for MVA85A, or for any of the other tuberculosis vaccines in development".

They added: "Now is a key moment in tuberculosis vaccine research.

"If the history of tuberculosis vaccine research teaches us anything, it is to expect surprises. We need to go on playing the high-stakes game."

The MVA85A study was funded by AERAS, the Wellcome Trust and Oxford-Emergent Tuberculosis Consortium.

AERAS, a not-for-profit organisation, was set up to develop new TB vaccines. MVA85A was the most advanced of six vaccine candidates it is helping develop.

Dr Tom Evans, interim CEO of AERAS said: "Because of the urgency to control the global TB epidemic, and despite these trial results, we remain steadfast in our belief that an improved TB vaccine will be developed and represents the best hope for eliminating the disease."

TB is a major global health problem with an estimated 8.7 million cases and 1.4 million deaths a year, according to the WHO.

The disease is the leading cause of death among people with HIV in South Africa.


Dr Richard White, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Director of the TB Modelling and Analysis Consortium, said:

"This is a very disappointing result, but this was just the first of around 12 new tuberculosis vaccines currently being tested in humans and around 50 vaccine candidates currently being tested in the lab. It was a historic trial, the first of a new TB vaccine for nearly a century. It will lead to much valuable knowledge to help us design effective vaccines in the future. "

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Well that Malala girl was saved, by her own words, by the prayers of everybody.
    So maybe all those people that prayed for her can keep TB at bay with their prayers. I hear it's super effective.

  • Comment number 95.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 94.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    85. MRR (and 91. FjB)

    As Prof McShane says, we are already running this trial. Will be a couple of years for the results though...

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @ 85.MRR

    Did you just solve the HIV/AIDS problem simply by reading a BBC news article and putting all the pieces together?

    You are a genius.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    I must congratulate the authors on a very well run trial. Not massively surprised by the result: if the human immune system can't protect you from repeat infection with TB, a vaccine has no natural situation to replicate.

    89. Passmore - good point. There is a strong negative relationship between GDP and TB incidence. Eliminating poverty would be the best solution. Hardly easy, though...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    A spokesperson said; "Although just like the BCG before it, this vaccine doesn't work either, we remain steadfast that this is the best solution to poverty, malnutrition, and poor sanitation."

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    A good example of science in action. Researchers come up with what seems to be an improved TB vaccine.Is this then launched on the market with a load of mumbo jumbo, a few anecdotes from people who say it has worked and a couple of celebrity endorsements? No, it is tested in a clinical trial and found not to work. Those involved may be disappointed but a useless treatment will not be introduced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Researches are at the begining of new TB vaccine trials, and there are the rest of 11 clinical trials and 49 lab trials waiting for expers to operate, as Dr Richard White put it. so keep up. we will finally overcome TB infection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    From what i have read elsewhere about 30% of the planet have TB , but it does not cause problems in the majority of people. Guess there is something else wrong with peoples health that triggers it and brings it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    If this vaccine stimulates high immune response in adults, surely it can be developed and used in adults who have HIV/AIDS? Then research can concentrate on a different vaccine for children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Well at least this is more news worthy than the fact some one found a Richard the 3rd in a car park in Leicester.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    TB is hard to catch. I have lived in PapuaNewGuinea for 14yrs and mix freely with people who have TB, drink beer with 'em etc. I regularly have tests, I don’t have it. I’ve seen dozens die of it. Problem here weird NGO’s sucking up to population saying how good traditional treatments are, so ‘Western’ Medicine seen as for weak westerners only.(Western TB treatment it free by the way)

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @81 Lynn: It's exactly this sort of pessimistic view that sends a chill down the spine of most research scientists. There is absolutely no method of avoiding clinical trials in drug development. Politicians and civil servants couldn't even begin to manage a research departments without years of scientific training. Besides, tax money will have played a small part, plus knowledge has been gained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Government should keep constant reviews and follow-up for such a failure large project. Surely, a lot of money and resources can be saved without reaching the final stage of trials. Clinical trials are very expensive. Prof Helen McShane should have stopped the trial earlier to avoid wasting of funding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    This isn't a failure, it's a step along the way to the time when we will have an effective preventative. Bit over-sensationalised, BBC! Trials exist to check things out, if it doesn't work lessons are still learned, and the desired result comes a bit closer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Imagine if just 1% percent of the world's total military budget was put to medical and clean energy research. How much progress could be made with $15,465,292,000 per year?

    That would be 0.022% of the annual GDP of the planet. Now imagine if our dear leaders dedicated 1% of global GDP to medical and clean energy research.

    Something in all our societies broke along the way to 2013.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Many lives would have been saved if the BCG vaccine had not been hated and ignored. I attribute this to the always dogmatic philosophy of the American FDA, in this case that live bacteria must not be used for vaccines. The same applies to their attitude against using poisonous but medically beneficial herbs, e.g lily of the valley, so much praised by Copernicus, who was also a M.D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    re68....Rickets is certainly a disease. It may not be an infectious disease, but then infectious disease is not the only kind of disease. Our correspondent from Tunbridge Wells has an very narrow view of disease causation quite at odds with medical and scientific opinion.


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