Gates Foundation awards 280 million dollars in TB grants

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CHICAGO, Sep 19 (Reuters) Research to fight the global tuberculosis epidemic got a shot in the arm on Tuesday with 280 million dollars in grants from the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation for work to develop more effective vaccines, diagnostic tests and drugs.

The lion's share of the award -- 200 million dollars over five years -- went to the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation to study up to six vaccine candidates in early stage clinical trials.

Aeras Chief Executive Dr Jerald Sadoff, a former vaccine researcher at Merck&Co Inc, said his group will use the Gates funding to launch a series of trials on human volunteers with the hope of having a new vaccine by 2015.

Sadoff hopes to test its vaccine candidates in up to 8,500 patients in 10 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States.

He said that even a partially effective new TB vaccine could prevent more than 30 million deaths worldwide by 2030.

Additional Gates Foundation funding will support the development of as many as 10 new TB diagnostic tests with the hope of developing one or more replacement tests within five years. Current tests miss about half of all TB cases.

The funding will also support early-stage drug discovery efforts.

The 280 million dollars is part of the foundation's pledge to spend at least 900 million dollars on tuberculosis by 2015. The foundation is now about halfway there.

TB is mostly a disease of the lungs, but it can attack any part of the body. The bacteria are spread by coughing and sneezing. Each year about 1.6 million people die from this curable disease, according to the World Health Organization.

Improper use of antibiotics and the failure by some patients to take the full course of drugs has led to the rise of drug-resistant strains of the disease, making TB more of a global threat.

A patient with TB that resists the effects of most antibiotics, US lawyer Andrew Speaker, set off international alarms last May when he defied health officials and traveled internationally. The WHO said his case showed how easily infectious disease can travel and how the problems of such diseases are global issues.

REUTERS SS BST0906

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