The Gates Foundation has announced plans to begin phase 3 trials of a new vaccine for tuberculosis, a disease which kills more than 1.5 million people each year. If it is successful, the vaccine would be the first developed to prevent TB in more than a century. The trial is set to start next year, and will be carried out over approximately six years at more than 50 locations in Asia and Africa.
We’ve curated interesting insights into how COVID impacted TB — a disease that was considered “fashionable” for the elite.
- TB diagnosis and treatment fell to the wayside at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with progress made up to 2019 slowing or reversing, a 2022 WHO report found. In 2021, there were roughly 6.4 million new TB cases reported. The WHO urged increased funding and efforts to address the impact of COVID on TB, warning that the war in Ukraine and ongoing energy crisis were “likely to worsen some of the broader determinants of TB.”
- Commonly referred to as consumption in the 19th century, TB infections at that time were seen as “fashionable” among England’s upper classes, London’s Science Museum notes. Famously, the poet Lord Byron hoped to die of the disease, thinking women would find him “interesting” for it. Among upper class women, suffering from TB was seen as emphasizing fragility and sexual attractiveness with the desirable appearance of “dramatically pale skin, an ethereal thinness, with red cheeks and a feverish glow.“
TB is among the leading causes of death in South Africa, Nomathamsanqa Majozi of the Africa Health Research Institute said in a statement about the Gates Foundation’s vaccine funding.
“In the area where I live and work, more than half of all people have had, or will have, TB at some point in their lives. The consequences are devastating, both at a personal and a community level,” Majozi added.
The existing vaccination for TB, called BCG, is about a 100 years old, but is only considered partially effective against the bacterium, which asymptomatically infects approximately a quarter of the world’s population. It is estimated that a new vaccine which is at least 50% effective could save 8.5 million lives over the next 25 years.
The charity is funneling $550 million in funding to the vaccine’s development.