CEO Mark Suzman, ET HealthWorld

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New Delhi: In a first of its kind, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is set to make major investments to the tune of “hundreds of millions” for the world’s first big trial of a new tuberculosis vaccine in over 100 years.

Speaking to a news agency, CEO of the Foundation, Mark Suzman, said that they have decided to plough in the investments as there is a lack of will to do so from other private corporations.

“We will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on that trial because the private sector is not willing to invest in it. The people who get tuberculosis are largely poor people who can’t pay for treatments. That’s an example of an investment that is not focused on India, but if it works, it will have very high benefits for India, which has a high TB burden,” the CEO said, referring to India’s ambitious tuberculosis eradication target.

Worldwide, TB is the second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 (above HIV and AIDS), according to the World Health Organisation. TB is present in all countries and age groups, is however, curable and preventable.

The infectious disease most often affecting lungs is caused by a type of bacteria that spreads through the air when infected people cough, sneeze or spit.

Under the National TB Elimination Programme (NTEP), the central government aims to elimiate the disease from India by the year 2025. A multi-pronged approach aims to detect all TB patients, with an emphasis on reaching TB patients seeking care from private providers and undiagnosed TB in high-risk populations.

In 2022, India launched the Ni-kshay Mitra initiative to ensure additional diagnostic, nutritional, and vocational support to those on TB treatment and encouraged elected representatives, corporations, NGOs, and individuals to come forward as donors to help the patients complete their journey towards recovery.

As per the latest government data, TB patient registration has improved by 56 per cent, from 15.5 lakh in 2014 to 24.22 lakh in 2022.

“An example of a major set of new investments we’ve got (at the Foundation) is that we will be launching the world’s first big trial for a new tuberculosis vaccine in over 100 years. We’re looking to see how some of that trial could be done in India and other places with high TB burdens, such as Asia and Africa,” Suzman said.

in June 2023, Wellcome and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced funding to advance a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine candidate, M72/AS01E (M72), through a Phase III clinical trial.

If proven effective, M72 could potentially become the first new vaccine to help prevent pulmonary TB, a form of active TB, in more than 100 years, the Foundation said in a statement.

The only TB vaccine in use today, bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), first given to people in 1921 helps protect babies and young children against severe systemic forms of TB but offers limited protection against pulmonary TB among adolescents and adults.

In India, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s major focus states are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

“The work we do directly in India, and we have a large array of sort of work there, particularly through our Memoranda of Understandings in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which are our two largest focus states, when we invest across health and agriculture. We support a number of efforts, Technical Support Units in UP, for example, and we also work with the central government and in partnership with a number of areas,” he said, adding that the Foundation was working closely with NITI Aayog.

“We work on women’s economic empowerment and supporting self-help groups, again, predominantly in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but also more broadly in India,” he further said.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website, it works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives, guided by the belief that every life has equal value.

In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty.

Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of co-chairs Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and the board of trustees.

  • Published On Jan 27, 2024 at 01:17 PM IST

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