Bill Gates visit Zaragoza TB vaccine development team

8 March 2012

The University of Zaragoza team working on the development of MTBVAC, a new vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) was visited by Bill Gates and his wife on 21 February.

Mr Gates showed great interest in the scientific background of MTBVAC, the most advanced vaccine based on attenuation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

MTBVAC is seen as a replacement for the current BCG vaccine and might be able to protect millions of people from getting tuberculosis. BCG is currently the only available vaccine against TB and unfortunately provides very limited protection. Without new vaccines TB cannot be eliminated.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is supporting the development of new vaccines against poverty-related diseases, including malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. During his visit in Madrid, he spoke with Carlos Martin’s team about the details of MTBVAC. MTBVAC is designed to replace the current BCG vaccine and is the first candidate to fulfil the Geneva consensus requirements for progressing live mycobacterial vaccines to clinical evaluation.

The new vaccine

The new candidate MTBVAC is based on the genetic attenuation of M. tuberculosis resulting in the removal of two independent virulence genes fadD26 and phoP. The phoP gene was greatly expressed in an epidemic strain responsible for a TB outbreak in HIV-infected patients with high mortality rate.

After 10 years of proof-of-concept studies in the relevant animal models, the Spanish biopharmaceutical company BIOFABRI, has developed MTBVAC under Good Manufacturing Practices with the aim to proceed to first-in-human clinical evaluation.

“This achievement was possible with the scientific advice of external expert advisors in the field of vaccine development which were facilitated through the European Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (TBVI),” says Carlos Martin.

“In the last four years, BIOFABRI and University of Zaragoza, under the leadership of TBVI, have worked closely to develop MTBVAC to meet regulatory requirements to allow entry in Phase I clinical trials. The final vaccine lots have been successfully produced and characterized and MTBVAC is expected to begin clinical evaluation this year.”

Bill and Melinda Gates meet the Zaragosa TB vaccine team
Dr Carlos Martin and his team from the University of Zaragoza were proud to inform Bill Gates about the latest developments in their lab. From left to right: Dessi Marinova, Bill Gates, Carlos Martin, Nacho Aguilo and Jesus Gonzalo


What Bill said

Bill Gates showed great interest and curiosity in the research and development of MTBVAC of the group of the University of Zaragoza. In the Spanish media, Bill Gates said to “El Pais” that the Spanish vaccine against tuberculosis is “fantastic”.

Bill and Melinda Gates foundation will stay attentive in the results of the Phase I evaluation of MTBVAC that will help in the future evaluation of the vaccine’s efficacy in endemic countries. Eradication of tuberculosis will be possible with a universal vaccine effective in preventing of pulmonary tuberculosis responsible for disease transmission.

The progress of the Spanish vaccine project MTBVAC was made possible with continuous European and National funds including Genoma España, Innocash.


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