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SA set to make TB vaccine history

21 March 2012, 15:05

South Africa - Scientists say the first advanced clinical trials in South Africa for tuberculosis vaccine are scheduled for completion by early next year.

South African researcher Dr Hassan Mohomed says the trials will make medical history, even if the vaccine doesn't work. He said the results will help scientists understand the world epidemic and form a key building block to hasten the eventual eradication of TB.

The government's health department said at the launch on Tuesday of a new global drive to find a vaccine that South Africa has the second highest rate of TB infection in the world after Swaziland.

"A blueprint has been developed, essentially a document on research plans for the next five to 10 years," said Hassan Mahomed, who heads clinical trials for the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative.

The fresh impetus to the research comes as scientists await the release in early 2013 of results from the world's most advanced TB vaccine trial - one of 12 currently underway.

"That's quite an exciting development, because for the first time we will know if any of these new vaccines will have positive developments for preventing TB," Mahomed said.

TB is the biggest killer of HIV-positive South Africans, whose resistance to disease is lowered.

A vaccine was developed 90 years ago, but it only protects children against some forms of the disease. Adults who develop TB must undergo drugs for treatment, but new drug-resistant forms of the disease have confounded doctors.

The disease preys on weakened immune systems, so it has become a major scourge in South Africa which has one of the world's highest HIV levels, with 18% of adults infected.

That has made the country a key testing ground for vaccine research, hosting six clinical trials.

Once known as "consumption" for the slow wasting away of terminally-ill patients, one out of every three people is thought to be infected by the airborne TB organism, though only a fraction go on to develop the disease.

- AP


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