Approximately 1.7 million people die each year as a result of tuberculosis (TB) and up to 2 billion people are infected with the causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. These numbers demonstrate that M. tuberculosis is one of the most successful pathogens ever encountered. Between 2007 and 2013 the EU invested a total of € 118 million in 50 TB projects. The investment in TB research was divided into three areas: vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. Research projects in these areas ranged from small discovery projects to large multidisciplinary consortia with the critical mass to undertake translational and clinical research. Research in this area has continued under Horizon 2020. Including funds from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, total Horizon 2020 investment in TB research stood at € 107 million at the end of 2017.
TB is a disease with a delicate balance between the host and the pathogen
Due to the special nature of the disease, attention has been given to topics such as:
- the mechanisms of pathogenesis and disease in TB, and the interaction between M. tuberculosis and the human host
- Emergence of multidrug-resistance (MDR-TB) and extensive drug-resistance (XDR-TB)
- Co-infection and co-morbidity in TB
New drugs against TB
The EU funds projects that aim to develop new drugs against TB, especially because of the alarming increase of multidrug-resistance (MDR-TB). SMEs and large pharmaceutical companies play an important role in projects to enable new drug candidates to enter clinical trials and eventually reach the market.
Point of care diagnostic tests
To control TB efficiently, infection with M. tuberculosis has to be quickly diagnosed, and the susceptibility of the particular strain to different drugs needs to be accurately determined before choosing the right treatment for the patient. The EU supports projects that are developing rapid diagnostic tests for use in clinical practice. Inexpensive and easy to use tests that can also be used in resource-poor settings are a priority.
No new vaccines have been introduced to prevent TB for 80 years. Development of new and improved vaccines for TB is a complicated and time-consuming endeavour. The EU has invested heavily in projects developing novel vaccines. After a huge amount of work by European and international researchers, a number of promising candidates are already in the clinical phase of development and will hopefully reach those who need then in the coming years.
International cooperation is the key to success
TB is a global problem and the responsibility to support research activities should be shared. The EU has built partnerships between its Member States and the global TB research field, and work has been done to integrate European efforts with the global TB research agenda. Supporting the transfer of drug and vaccine candidates to human clinical trials, and liaising with the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership has enabled further clinical trials to be undertaken in low- and middle-income countries.