NIH awards contracts to advance tuberculosis immunology research

Oct. 1, 2019

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded $30 million in first-year funding to establish new centers for immunology research to accelerate progress in tuberculosis (TB) vaccine development.

New and improved TB vaccines are badly needed. Over the past 200 years, TB has claimed the lives of more than 1 billion people—more deaths than from malaria, influenza, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, cholera and plague combined. TB is the world’s leading infectious cause of death and remains a major global health concern. TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), which spreads from person to person through airborne transmission. Nearly one-quarter of the world’s population has latent Mtb infection, meaning they carry the bacteria in an inactive form but are not ill and do not transmit Mtb to others. People with latent TB have a 5 to 10 percent lifetime risk of developing active TB disease. The probability of developing active TB is considerably higher in those who are immunocompromised.

The new contract awards establish and provide up to seven years of support for three Immune Mechanisms of Protection Against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (IMPAc-TB) Centers to elucidate the immune responses needed to protect against Mtb infection. A better understanding of TB immunology is critical to guide the design and development of new and improved TB vaccines and aligns with the goals of the NIAID Strategic Plan for Tuberculosis Research. Existing BCG vaccines provide some protection to infants and young children against disseminated TB disease, in which the infection has spread to multiple organs. However, these vaccines do not prevent lung infections or provide long-term protection against Mtb infection.

The IMPAc-TB program aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of the immune responses required to prevent initial infection with Mtb, establishment of latent infection, and transition to active TB disease. To accomplish these objectives, multi-disciplinary research teams will analyze immune responses against Mtb, as well as immune responses elicited by promising vaccine candidates, in animal models and humans. Other aims of the IMPAc-TB program include understanding the effects of co-infections such as HIV on immune responses to Mtb infection or TB vaccination and improving the value of animal models in predicting Mtb vaccine efficacy in humans.

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