Last week, my colleagues Erin, Margaret and I (that’s us in the lab coats) went on a tour of the Aeras Global TB Vaccine facility in Rockville, Maryland. We were there to learn more about the need for a new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine and to see how the vaccine development process works.
A new vaccine for TB is urgently needed. Every year, more than 9.4 million people become sick with TB and about 1.8 million people die from the disease, including 0.5 million people who are also HIV-positive. The existing BCG vaccine was first used in 1921, does not always protect people from getting TB, and is not safe for those with weakened immune systems, such as those living with HIV (a significant shortcoming as TB is the leading cause of death among persons infected with HIV in Africa). Our Aeras guides stressed the important of addressing TB in order to protect the historic progress achieved through recent investments in HIV/AIDS.
The Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation is a non-profit product development partnership dedicated to the development of safe and effective TB vaccine regimens that will prevent tuberculosis in all age groups and will be affordable, available and adopted worldwide. Our tour of the Aeras Global TB Vaccine facility involved a look at the following steps of TB vaccine development: vaccine discovery, molecular biology, process development, cell banks, manufacturing: shake flasks and 20 liter seed fermenter, manufacturing: 200 liter fermenter, manufacturing: harvest, quality control, spray drying for aerosol vaccines, and fill and finish. We also learned about the steps that come later, including shipping bulk product to manufacturing partners and delivery.
That’s just an overview, and if it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. Aeras scientists are well-trained and committed to developing safe and effective TB vaccine regimens, but vaccine development is a lengthy process and Aeras estimates that we are about ten years away from a vaccine that that has been thoroughly tested and can be delivered around the world. Aeras has four vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials in Africa, Europe and the U.S.
If you’d like to learn more about the great work the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation is doing, you can visit their website at www.aeras.org.