Kemri TB vaccine likely to get WHO nod after trials


A health worker helps a woman on a platform of the digital x-ray machine during a TB screening drive at Magadi Catholic church in Manyatta slums in Kisumu on March 17, 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

If adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is going to be the first vaccine to prevent active tuberculosis in adults and adolescents produced in Kenya.

The vaccine being developed by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the Gates Medical Research Institute is set for Phase III clinical trials.

The research institutes and several African countries participated in the Phase II trials of the m72 candidate conducted in 3,500 adolescents and adults with latent TB in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia from August 2014 to November 2018.

At least 54 per cent of those who received the vaccine were protected from active TB for three years, surpassing the WHO threshold.

While highlighting milestones against TB, which is responsible for six per cent of deaths in Kenya, the researchers said they are also working on a BCG recombinant Phase III vaccine trial for infants.

Some 1,500 participants have been recruited for the vaccine candidate from the Serum Institute of India for the trial to be conducted in Nairobi and Siaya.

“These vaccines have a likelihood of being adopted by WHO. It means Kemri is making strides in achieving the universal healthcare,” Dr Videlis Nduba, research scientist at Kemri, said.

“The infants were vaccinated in two groups with an improved BCG recombinant comparing this to the normal BCG.”

The study is looking at the preventing infection and subsequent prevention of TB.

BCG is the only licensed TB vaccine. While it provides moderate efficacy in preventing severe forms of TB in infants and children, it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults, who account for close to 90 per cent of transmissions worldwide.

Every year, about 120,000 people in Kenya develop TB, with 48,000 infected with HIV. Some 18,600 die from it, according to the Ministry of Health.

This is despite the disease being curable and preventable. Most patients seek medical attention after developing acute TB.

Researchers are also working on the best way to diagnose TB in children. They want to use a system that will confirm the presence of TB in blood and urine.

Dr Jane Ogango, a researcher at Kemri, said the target for the study is to make treatment easy.

“We continue to search for more short treatment regimens. Our objective is to make the patient comfortable,” Dr Ogango said.

Kemri is also working on diagnosis. Most hospitals use Genexpert for diagnosis.

“This molecular test gives results immediately. It is a more sensitive test compared to what was previously used. There is need to screen everyone with cough symptoms,” she said.

According to Health PS, Josephine Mburu, TB case-finding and lab diagnosis form the backbone of quality patient care and disease surveillance.

Meanwhile, the government will hire at least 90,000 community health workers by next month to boost universal healthcare, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said during events to mark the World TB Day in Eldoret yesterday.

“We will give stipends to the health workers countrywide to ensure they provide the first line of response,” he said.

Mr Mudavadi did not reveal the amount to be given to every health worker.

He stressed commitment to boost health services in line with the Kenya Kwanza economic model.

He added that the government would build a referral hospital in Uasin Gishu County after the elevation of Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.

At the same time, the Prime CS urged health experts to write prescriptions in Kiswahili.

“Patients need to understand what is being prescribed to them. Not every Kenyan can read or understand English,” Mr Mudavadi said, adding that Kiswahili is the national language.

Additional reporting by Titus Ominde