Posts Tagged ‘vaccine’

Investment in Malaria R&D Required to Sustain Gains and Save Lives

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

In the U.S., the bite of a mosquito is uncomfortable and irritating. For 3.3 billion people abroad, a mosquito bite can be deadly. Almost half of the global population is at risk of contracting malaria from the bite of an infected mosquito. Although malaria is preventable and curable, an estimated 655,000 people, mostly children in Africa, died from the disease in 2010.

On April 25, the global health community commemorates the fifth annual World Malaria Day by recognizing the progress that has been made in the fight against malaria and calling for increased investment to sustain this momentum and achieve malaria control worldwide. The current basis of malaria control efforts are mosquito control strategies and treatment. Studies have shown that bed nets can reduce malaria transmission by 90% in areas with high coverage rates. In addition, indoor residual spraying with insecticides can also reduce malaria transmission in areas with at least 80% coverage.

The tide is turning against malaria, thanks in part to remarkable achievements in research and development (R&D).  In the past decade, malaria deaths have decreased by one third in Africa. In countries with improved access to malaria control interventions, child mortality rates have fallen by 20%. More research is needed, however, to develop new, longer-lasting tools to bring eradication within reach.

In Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.  Photo credit: Flickr photo by Gates Foundation

Hope on the way: the malaria product pipeline

Antimalarial medicines are used for curative and preventive purposes, but the increasing threat of drug resistance is making R&D for new, more effective drugs even more essential. Widespread resistance to the drug chloroquine in the 1970s and 1980s necessitated the use of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT), currently the best available treatment. The plant from which artemisinin is derived is in short supply in nature, threatening future availability of ACT. OneWorld Health, a drug development affiliate of PATH, in collaboration with private-sector partners, is working to solve this problem through the development and production of semisynthetic artemisinin at an affordable price that can sustain the supply of ACT for years to come.

In addition, product development partnership Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) has several promising drug candidates in their R&D pipeline. MMV is developing a one-dose cure to replace current 3-day regimens, eliminating the need for treatment follow-up and reducing the likelihood of drug resistance.  MMV is also working on the development of non-artemisinin-based treatments.  Considering recent reports of increasing resistance to ACTs in Southeast Asia, increased investment is needed to support the development of new therapies that may be necessary to control malaria in the future.

The greatest hope for malaria eradication is the development of a safe, effective vaccine to prevent infection. RTS,S, the most advanced malaria vaccine candidate, has been shown to reduce the risk of infection by 50% among children age 5-17 months in a recent late-stage clinical trial. Developed through collaboration between the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, this vaccine could be recommended for widespread use by the WHO as early as 2015.

Research has played an essential role in the progress already made against malaria and additional scientific breakthroughs may be around the corner due to the robust R&D pipeline. Malaria R&D has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, including American troops stationed abroad, and also has important economic benefits here at home by creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. In order to fully realize these health and economic benefits, increased investment in malaria R&D is required.

For information on the April 25 Washington, DC event, Advancements of U.S. Science and Technology in Malaria, please see http://www.researchamerica.org/event_detail/id:140. RSVP required.

TDR-TB Highlights Need for Better TB Vaccine & Drugs

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Just as India celebrates its one-year anniversary of being polio-free, news of  “totally drug resistant tuberculosis” (TDR-TB)  in Mumbai has emerged. Previous cases of TDR-TB were first reported in 2007 and again in 2009. Although not a term formally recognized by the World Health Organization, TDR-TB is described as a form of TB that has mutated beyond multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) and extremely drug resistant (XDR-TB) TB and fails to respond to existing first- and second-line treatments. The result of incomplete adherence to tough drug regimens and improper prescribing, the rise of TDR-TB is worrying, as no drugs currently exist to combat this new strain.

Aeras, a Maryland-based TB vaccine product development organization, recently partnered with China’s top vaccine maker China National Biotech Group (CNBG), to pursue the development, manufacturing, and global distribution of an effective and long-lasting TB vaccine. Aeras and CNBG hope to create an affordable vaccine that may protect against drug-resistant strains of TB. This international partnership reflects the global problem of TB; as an infectious disease that infects a third of the global population, killed 1.45 million people worldwide in 2010, and newly infected over 11,100 Americans in 2010, TB is a major global health threat.

TB’s contagiousness lies in its ability to travel through the air, thus resulting in a multiplying effect of person-to-person transmission. The infectious nature of TB was spotlighted in the 2007 case of the Atlanta man infected with XDR-TB who traveled overseas despite warnings from health officials. Estimates at that time figured that he had, over the course of two trans-Atlantic flights, put upwards of 80 people at risk for TB transmission.

The prevalence and infectious nature of TB underscores the need for the development of an effective and cost-friendly vaccine to prevent, and drugs to treat, existing TB infections. Ninety years have passed since the development of the current (and only somewhat effective) BCG vaccine and nearly fifty years since the last drugs to treat TB were developed. Lowering the cost of treatment is another concern, as, for example, second-line MDR-TB treatment can be “literally thousands of times as expensive as that of regular treatment in some regions,” according to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development.

While challenges remain, encouraging progress continues in the fight against TB. For example, in November of this past year, an international collaboration between California-based Next Dimension Technologies and India’s International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology yielded the creation of a hand-held TB detector. Called the “Electronic Nose,” this device can help diagnose within minutes TB-infection based on altered molecules present in an individual’s breath, a dramatic improvement from traditional tests’ diagnosis span of weeks. Early identification will help infected persons begin treatment earlier and thus also reduce the likelihood of TB transmission to others. Funding for the development of this device comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada.

A similar quick-detection device called the GenXpert MTB/RIF was developed in late 2010 by Switzerland’s Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), California-company Cepheid Inc., and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to diagnosis TB, MDR-TB, and co-infections of TB-HIV/AIDS. Funding for its test demonstration study was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Prevention-wise, the good news is that more than ten TB vaccine candidates are currently in the pipeline, with some starting participation in human safety trials. Aeras president and chief executive Jim Connolly estimates that it will take a minimum of 7-10 years to create a TB vaccine in China.

Campaign for Public Health Foundation: National Influenza Vaccination Week Media Event

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH; Henry Lin, MD; H1N1 survivor; Rep. Judy Chu; Rep. James McGovern

Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH; Henry Lin, MD; H1N1 survivor; Rep. Judy Chu; Rep. James McGovern

Congressional representatives, survivors and public health officials alerted media, families and children to take advantage of a widely available supply of the H1N1 flu vaccine at an event held by the Campaign for Public Health Foundation today at The Family Room, a kids’ play area in Washington, DC.

Bruce Gellin, MD, MPH, Director of the National Vaccine Program Office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pointed to public health and prevention research that shows vaccines are the best means of preventing H1N1. “Research with NIH shows us that two doses are necessary for children under nine years old,” Gellin said. Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), co-chair of the Congressional Study Group on Public Health, and Judy Chu (D-CA) agreed, asking the audience to remain vigilant. Henry Lin, MD, reminded us of the tragedy that can occur when the flu is not prevented with the story of his son who died of H1N1 in October.

Families with children lined up to receive vaccinations provided by Georgetown University’s Kids Mobile Medical Care Unit.

–Allison Bland