Last month, Walter Sisulu and North-West universities made a remarkable announcement regarding their discovery of a vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) and COVID-19. They have successfully developed a vaccine that protects against both tuberculosis (TB) and Covid-19. The universities have reported an extraordinary achievement of 100% protection in vaccinated animals. This remarkable progress marks a significant advancement in the ongoing fight against tuberculosis, a disease that has caused immense devastation worldwide.

By Sivuyile Majikijela

Scientists at two South African universities have made a groundbreaking discovery that could potentially eradicate the deadly diseases of Tuberculosis (TB) and Covid-19. This remarkable achievement has gone unnoticed for nearly a month, but its impact on global health cannot be overstated.

On August 23, the University of North West (NWU) made a significant announcement regarding its collaboration with the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in the development of a groundbreaking vaccine that provides complete protection against tuberculosis (TB). This achievement marks a significant milestone in the field of medical research.

In 2021, approximately 10.6 million people globally were afflicted with TB, with 6 million being men, 3.4 million being women, and 1.2 million being children. TB is prevalent across all nations and age demographics, even though it is both treatable and preventable.

The announcement by NWU and WSU is a result of preclinical investigations conducted on a pioneering combination vaccine for COVID-19 and TB. These studies carried out on two animal models, have shown a remarkable 100% protection against TB in three immunogenicity studies.

The Medical School at Walter Sisulu University, which focuses on addressing national health issues through its research, partnered with North-West University, a prominent institution in drug development and research. The collaborative research, which started 18 months ago, was also supported by a grant from the Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority (CHIETA).

Professor Anne Grobler, an expert in global biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and the project manager of the South African Vaccine Platform for Infectious Diseases (SAVAC) initiative, provided insight into the process.

“What we do is we infect specific animal models with the bacteria or with a TB live, and then you see how the protected animals react against the disease. In this case, we use an animal model specifically, such as from tuberculosis, which mimics the human condition. We’ve used quite a lot of several animals to confirm it. So, we’ve done 12 different groups of animals to confirm our results,” explained Grobler.

Professor Markus Depfenhart, who is a professor at both universities, is spearheading the development of a versatile vaccine in response to the need for a tuberculosis vaccine.

In a statement to NWU, Depfenhart reflected on how he saw the potential advantages of merging research on COVID-19 and TB, as recent studies have demonstrated a protective synergy between the two illnesses. He claims that these data point to a potential avenue for co-treatment and additional research into the interplay between the two illnesses.

“DNA vaccines have incredible potential due to their stability and adaptability. By marrying their strengths with the high efficacy of mRNA vaccines, we are breaking new ground. This union brings out the best of both worlds and could herald a pivotal shift, especially for regions like Africa,’’ he said.

“The results from three different immunogenicity studies in two animal models led to and justified the performance of an effectivity study in an animal model that mimics TB in humans. The key deliverable of the study, which was carried out at the high-security Biosafety Laboratory (BSL3) of the preclinical imaging facility of the South African Nuclear Medicine Research Infrastructure (SANuMeRI) housed at NECSA (South African Nuclear Energy Corporation), was survival. Indeed, the study showcased a 100% protection rate for the vaccinated animal subjects, a feat not previously described in literature,” Depfenhart added.

The next critical step in this research is to proceed with human trials. According to media reports, researchers are currently preparing to collaborate with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to discuss the required approvals and protocols. Their goal is to establish a set of standards that will guarantee the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

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