U.S. and U.K. charities push to deliver new TB vaccine

Tuberculosis (TB) kills more than 1.5 million people annually, mostly in developing countries. The U.S. government and private sector work to improve health at home and abroad, and a U.S. charity is helping advance a new vaccine against TB, the world’s leading infectious disease killer.

The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, based in the United Kingdom, are funding the final stage of clinical testing of the vaccine candidate M72/AS01E (M72). If approved, M72 would be the first new vaccine against pulmonary tuberculosis in more than a century.

“With TB cases and deaths on the rise, the need for new tools has never been more urgent,” Bill Gates said, announcing the foundation’s roughly $400 million contribution toward testing of M72. The Wellcome Trust is providing additional funding up to $150 million.

“Greater investment in safe and effective TB vaccines alongside a suite of new diagnostics and treatments could transform TB care for millions of people, saving lives and lowering the burden of this devastating and costly disease,” Gates added.

TB, which primarily affects the lungs, killed 1.6 million people in 2021, roughly 4,300 per day. Its greatest toll is on people living in poverty in low- and middle-income countries. TB is responsible for more deaths each year than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. The availability of a TB vaccine is key to achieving the U.N. sustainable development goal of ending TB by 2030.

Developed by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, based in the U.K., with support from the Gates Foundation and the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, M72 is one of 17 TB vaccines currently in development.

Phase III clinical testing ensures vaccines effectively prevent disease and follows earlier-phase trials that ensure safety. The only TB vaccine in use protects the very young from severe forms of the disease but offers only limited protection for adults and adolescents.

Woman going over papers with another woman in an office (© Samantha Reinders/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
A nurse tells a mother how to administer TB medication to her daughter at a clinic in Worcester, South Africa, in 2014. (© Samantha Reinders/Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

The United States works to advance global health and funds TB vaccine research, diagnostics, prevention and treatment through contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, as well as through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programming.

USAID has provided $4.6 billion in assistance to combat TB since 2000, working with partners to save more than 74 million lives globally.

In September 2022, the U.S. government, partner nations and the private sector pledged a record $14.25 billion to the Global Fund over the next three years. The global effort has saved the lives of more than 44 million people around the world over the past 20 years.

“This is all about saving lives,” President Biden told the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, September 21, 2022, in New York.