GlaxoSmithKline tuberculosis vaccine shows promise in phase 2b

GSK
GlaxoSmithKline touted phase 2b data on a tuberculosis vaccine candidate one day before international experts meet to discuss the epidemic. (Eric Sagonowsky)

It’s been a nearly a century since the development of the world’s only tuberculosis vaccine, and Tuesday GlaxoSmithKline and its nonprofit partner Aeras touted early results for what could be a promising vaccine against a deadly disease.  

In primary results of a phase 2b study published Tuesday, the candidate vaccine posted an overall vaccine efficacy rate of 54%. Investigators tested the vaccine against placebo in 3,573 HIV-negative adults at 11 sites in South Africa, Zambia and Kenya. In the vaccine group, 10 participants developed active pulmonary tuberculosis compared to 22 in the placebo group. The vaccine is designed to prevent the progression from latent TB infection to active disease and illness.

One-quarter of the world's population has latent tuberculosis infection, according to data cited by GSK. The disease is a leading cause of death globally.

The results are early, and the vaccine will need further testing. Still, GSK vaccine R&D head Emmanuel Hanon said in a statement the initial results are a “scientific breakthrough” and they “represent a significant innovation in the development of a new and much-needed vaccine and advance the scientific understanding of tuberculosis.”

If the vaccine succeeds in further testing, it’ll represent an improvement from BCG, the world’s only tuberculosis vaccine first used in 1921. That vaccine doesn’t provide “proven and consistent” protection for adults, according to GSK, and it isn’t generally recommended in the U.S. Worldwide, BCG is among the most widely used vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. 

A better TB vaccine would help fight against spread of the disease as well as drug-resistant tuberculosis. GSK is partnered on the vaccine with Aeras, a global nonprofit advancing TB vaccine development. 

The results come a day before international experts meet at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss efforts to accelerate efforts to end the TB epidemic. According to WHO, there were 10 million new TB cases last year, and 1.6 million deaths attributable to the disease. The international group has a goal to end the epidemic by 2035.