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Tuberculosis

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. In the 6th Framework Programme, a portfolio of more than 20 TB projects, with an overall budget of more than €60 million, was established. These projects have contributed significantly to lightening the burden of TB. In the 7th Framework Programme, the investment in TB research can be broadly divided into three areas: vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. A strong portfolio of TB research projects has been established in all of these areas, ranging from small discovery projects to large multidisciplinary consortia with sufficient critical mass to undertake translational and clinical research.

TB is a disease with specific problems of basic research

Due to the special nature of the disease, attention has also been given to basic research and topics such as:

  1. the mechanisms of pathogenesis and disease in TB, and the interaction between M. tuberculosis and the human host;
  2. Emergence of multidrug-resistance (MDR-TB) and extensive drug-resistance (XDR-TB);
  3. 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 as well as large pharmaceutical companies coordinate and participate in such projects so as to enable any new drug candidates to enter clinical trials and eventually reach the market.

Point of care diagnostic tests

In order to be able to control TB efficiently, infection with M. tuberculosis and the drug susceptibility profile of the identified strains needs to be rapidly and accurately determined before choosing the appropriate treatment regimen. The EU supports projects aimed at developing rapid diagnostic tests for use in clinical practice. Inexpensive and easy to use tests that can also be implemented in resource-poor settings are a priority.

Vaccines

No new vaccines have been introduced to prevent TB for 80 years. Development of new improved vaccines for TB is a complicated and time consuming endeavour. The EU has invested heavily in projects developing novel vaccines. The most promising candidates are already in the clinical phase of development.

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 with its Member States and global players of the TB research field, and 7th Framework Programme activities have contributed to integrating European efforts with the global TB research agenda.
Fostering the transfer of drug and vaccine candidates to human clinical trials, and liaising with the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership will enable further large clinical trials to be undertaken in developing countries.