North West, Walter Sisulu Universities make strides in the battle against TB

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North West and Walter Sisulu Universities are making significant strides in the battle against tuberculosis.

The two Institutions of Higher Learning unveiled the results of their pre-clinical trials for a groundbreaking combination DNA vaccine against tuberculosis and COVID-19.

A month ago, the animal model trials were completed, with positive outcoming results.

Since the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine which is given to babies after birth, South Africa did not have any TB vaccine in the pharmaceutical market.

While BCG is a weakened strain of TB, the new vaccine is DNA-based, generating antibody responses against TB.

Vaccine approval, means those infected with TB, would no longer need six months of treatment.

According to the World Health Organisation, nearly three hundred thousand people were diagnosed with TB in South Africa in 2021. This while about 56 000 died from the disease.

South Africa only used the BCG-TB vaccine, which is given to babies just after birth.

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The BCG vaccine was first used in 1921, prompting the need for an update.

The vaccine developer, Professor Markus Depfenhart says they achieved a hundred percent protection outcome in animal model trials for the DNA vaccine, that does not need cold storage.

“We are at the break stage. We use different animal models. For example, we use the different mouse models and just recently activity studies which means the infection studies where we look at how the vaccine works and check the animal that has been infected with tuberculosis, how is the protection of the vaccine. This is what we just finished. We used the special mouse model that is very susceptible for tuberculosis and we were able to protect those mice completely that is actually part of our big finding”.

One of the standout features of the vaccine is when confronted with a real infection, the immune system can respond more swiftly and effectively.

This novel approach, developed by Professor Depfenhart, may explain the vaccine’s notable efficacy against TB.

Depfenhart says, “The idea behind it is also to not have just a preventative vaccine that means to prevent people to get the disease or to get infected. Now the idea is also to do a therapeutic vaccine, of course, we have not been able to show that yet and we are investigating that as well. From what we found in animal trials, we are very confident that we also might work as a therapeutic vaccine that would mean if someone is infected already with MTB or even I’ll from MTB then this person would have a chance to be cured by such vaccine.”

This vaccine, if approved for the pharmaceutical market, will be groundbreaking says the project manager, Professor Anne Grobler.

Pharmaceutical expert and Project manager, Professor Anne Grobler says, “BCG has been available over a hundred years. No other TB vaccine exists period, nothing is on the market. In South Africa, we use BCG to vaccinate babies and furthermore, no DNA vaccine has ever been approved in South Africa as far as I know, so not only is that we don’t have any new TB Vaccine, we also don’t have DNA vaccine and there is also limited information on the combination bacterial and the virus vaccine as we have done in this case and here we have a TB Vaccine combined with a SARS-CoV-2. A virus and bacteria.”

The two universities are currently compiling a pre-clinical module for the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

They will then decide if there is sufficient evidence to continue to human clinical trials.

–Tsholofelo Mogami–