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Breathing new life into the fight against tuberculosis

Spanish biomedical experts are participating in a potentially ground-breaking project to find a vaccine to tuberculosis, thanks to EU funding.

EU-funded researchers are working towards finding a vaccine to one of the world’s most persistent killers: tuberculosis. This infectious disease, which spreads through the air, results in one death every 24 seconds. In 2013 there were between 1.3 and 1.5 million associated fatalities, mostly in developing countries. Inadequate diagnosis and increasing resistance to drugs have emphasised the need for effective prevention in order to keep this disease under control. This is why the scientists behind the BIOCAPS project – which originally received EUR 4.6 million through the EU’s FP7 funding scheme – are now taking on the fight against tuberculosis, second only to HIV as a leading cause of death from an infectious disease. The main objective of the original BIOCAPS project, which began in February 2013, was to strengthen a national Institute of Excellence in Biomedical Research in Spain by bringing together health, scientific and technological expertise to tackle key societal challenges. Thanks to this project – which officially ends in July 2016 – the Institute of Biomedical Research of Vigo (IBIV) has established itself as a dynamic partner within the European Research Area. This has given the IBIV scientists the opportunity to tackle tuberculosis in collaboration with experts from seven other European countries. Nearly EUR 8 million has now been granted from the EU’s new research programme Horizon 2020, with the new project co-ordinated by St George’s Hospital at the University of London, UK. This team of experts recently began by searching for biomarkers that display protective immune responses against the disease. This is a key step in the development of an effective vaccine. Biomarkers are substances that serve as indicators of a biological state, i.e. how well a person is coping with a particular infection. By assessing these biomarkers, scientists can monitor the success of a treatment. When it comes to tuberculosis, however, no adequate biomarkers have been found, which is why the project has to start from here. The next phase in the process will involve trials. Patients in Galicia, Spain (where the IBIV is based) will be selected in order to study their immune system and to identify biomarkers. This will help to reveal one of the greatest mysteries surrounding this disease: why some people are infected and others not; and why only 10 % of those infected finally develop the disease. Galicia is an ideal location for these trials, as it is the fifth region in Spain in terms of the number of cases of tuberculosis, and second only to the city of Melilla in terms of the prevalence of patients (24.1 cases per 100 000 inhabitants). As such, it is a disease with a high incidence rate, bearing in mind the level of economic and social development of the region. The development of an effective vaccine is the only way to convert this disease into a minor health problem, not only in Galicia but across the rest of the world. It is hoped that the advances made through BIOCAPS will contribute significantly to finding a long term solution. For further information please visit: BIOCAPS



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