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Universities’ TB vaccination study yields promising results

Home Manufacturing & Processing Chemicals Universities’ TB vaccination study yields promising results

THE Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (Chieta) has welcomed the results of groundbreaking research by the Walter Sisulu University Medical School on a combination vaccine against tuberculosis (TB).

“This is a significant step forward in the unrelenting battle against TB, one of the world’s most devastating diseases, and underscores the need for collaborative solutions. We are pleased to have made this research possible,” said Chieta CEO Yershen Pillay.

A R3,5 million Chieta grant, initiated 18 months ago, bolstered collaborative research between Walter Sisulu University Medical School and the North-West University.

The grant was allocated for research and skills transfer at Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and North-West University (NWU), headed by Prof Markus Depfenhart, who has been involved in developing vaccines and pandemic management interventions in Africa.

Both Universities reported an unprecedented 100% protection in vaccinated animals—a significant step forward in the unrelenting battle against TB, one of the world’s most devastating diseases.

“As a Seta committed to creating sustainable livelihoods, we don’t believe in signing agreements for the sake of collecting dust in a corner office – we expect results. The result of the Chieta grant to NWU and WSU is the development of a South African-produced vaccine with 100% protection against tuberculosis,” Pillay said.

Through this collaboration, Chieta has become a critical enabler to a unique and ambitious project, which develops vital skills locally and initiates pan-African collaboration amongst scientists on the continent and internationally. We are proud to be part of this initiative and make our contribution to growing South Africa’s local vaccine economy,” said Pillay.

Pillay said that the Chieta entered and deepened collaborations with WSU and the NWU, because of its pan-African focus. The initiative related to the development of a vaccine knowledge base and supply In Africa, By Africa, For Africa.  The attraction for us as a Seta to fund and collaborate, was not only heightened by the transformative innovation potential of the project but also the economic impact such an innovation could bring to the country and the region.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death in South Africa and many other countries. This research will have a far-reaching implication for vaccine development. The results from three different immunogenicity studies in two animal models led to and justified the performance of an effectivity study in an animal model that mimics TB in humans.

The study’s key deliverable, which was carried out at the high-security Biosafety Laboratory (BSL3) of the preclinical imaging facility of the South African Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (SANuMeRI) housed at Necsa (South African Nuclear Energy Corporation), was survival. The study showcased a 100% protection rate for the vaccinated animal subjects, a feat not previously described in the literature.

Prof Depfenhart, the inventor and driving force behind the vaccine’s concept and development, said DNA vaccines have incredible potential due to their stability and adaptability.

“By marrying their strengths with the high efficacy of mRNA vaccines, we are breaking new ground. This union brings out the best of both worlds and could herald a pivotal shift, especially for regions like Africa.”

The study showcased a 100% protection rate for the vaccinated animal. “The dedication and sacrifices made by the Necsa team during this intense study period were invaluable,” said Depfenhart.

A standout feature of this vaccine is its unique ability to mirror bacterial protein production, potentially bypassing certain human protein modifications. This ensures that the immune system is introduced to the most authentic version of the antigen, essentially acquainting it with the “true enemy”.

The immune system can respond more swiftly and effectively when confronted with a real infection. Depfenhart’s novel approach could be groundbreaking and explain the vaccine’s notable efficacy against TB.

The next step is to move into human trials. Preparations are underway for discussions with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) to determine the requisite standards and protocols.

Prof Rushiella Songca, vice-chancellor and principal of Walter Sisulu University, was thrilled with the findings: “This is a beacon of hope. Given TB’s unyielding onslaught over the years, standing on the precipice of a tangible solution is epoch-making. Through this collaborative venture, our scientific community is signalling that no challenge is insurmountable.”

Prof Awie Kotze, executive dean of Health Sciences at the North-West University (NWU), said the success was a testament to the collaboration between the two universities, Necsa, and Chieta.

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