The World Health Organization (WHO) says that “yes, you can” end thetuberculosis, disease whose World Day is commemorated today, and which, although it sounds like a thing of the past, continues to kill a million and a half people a year, especially in low-income countries. One reason for optimism is the MTBVAC vaccine, developed by the company Biofabri, of the Zendal group, in Porriño. The drug has entered phase 3 of clinical trials, the last step before its commercialization.
MTBVAC entered phase 3 efficacy in newborns from South Africa, Madagascar and Senegal this year. “It is the moment of truth after three decades of work. We need to finance this final phase and prove that a vaccine that would be produced from start to finish in Spain can end the disease that has killed the most in history”, says the scientific leader of this project,Carlos MartinProfessor of Microbiology at the Zaragoza’s University. The industrial and clinical development of the drug, the first attenuated vaccine based on the human pathogen to reach this stage, is carried out by the Galician biopharmaceutical company Biofabri, in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza and the European Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI).
For the first time in two decades, deaths from tuberculosis have increased in the world, something that is attributed to the COVID pandemic. Before the coronavirus, it was the deadliest infectious disease in the world. In 2021, 1,600,000 people died of tuberculosis, which was an increase of 6.6 percent. “Tuberculosis is preventable, treatable and curable, and yet this ancient scourge that has afflicted humanity for millennia continues to cause suffering and death to millions of people each year,” said WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, Galicia It was the community with the highest incidence of tuberculosis: 20 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, double the Spanish average. The disease preys on the elderly, immunosuppressed and immigrants and its treatment is long and with side effects.
It has been known for 141 years that the pathogen that causes it is the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In fact, World Day was established on March 24 because it was on that date in 1882 when the German scientist Robert Koch communicated, in a speech before the Physiological Society of Berlin, the discovery of this rod-shaped bacterium that came to be called “Koch’s bacillus”.
Despite being an old acquaintance, there is no really effective vaccine to prevent it. The only vaccine currently in use is the so-called BCG (Bacillus of Calmette y Guerin). It consists of an attenuated variant of the tuberculosis pathogen in cows. It was developed almost a century ago and barely interrupts the transmission of the disease. A vaccine is needed to prevent contagion and to deal with another problem of recent decades: the appearance of multi-resistant strains. Biofabri’s vaccine is being developed to be more effective and potentially longer lasting than BCG for newborns. In addition, it has been designed to prevent the disease in adults and adolescents. It would be a checkmate with a Galician seal to the deadliest disease in history.