San Antonio researchers developing new, more promising tuberculosis vaccine

Spray version of the TB vaccine proving more successful in early trials

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio is center stage for a new tuberculosis vaccine that could change the world.

Tuberculosis kills more people than any other infectious disease in the world.

The disease is less common in the United States than it is in much of the world, but we've seen our fair share of cases locally over the past several years. So researchers at Texas Biomed in San Antonio are hard at work to improve upon the current vaccine, and the version they're working on now is already proving to be much more effective.

Dr. Jordi Torrelles, professor at Texas Biomed, is leading the study, which is the only one in the world that is close to successfully creating the new vaccine. He said this is crucial because tuberculosis is a dangerous and deadly disease.

"Collapsing their lungs, so much inflammation it doesn't allow you to breathe and the infection expands," Torrelles said, describing the disease's symptoms.

Torrelles said the tuberculosis vaccine currently used worldwide only curbs 25% of lung tissue damage.

The new vaccine, which has proved successful in mice, curbs 50% of lung tissue damage. That's partially because the new vaccine is a spray instead of an injection and is administered just like an asthma inhaler.

The issue affects us locally.

In 2018, three schools each had one case of tuberculosis:

  • September 2018: Johnson High School

  • April 2018: Brandeis High School

  • February 2018: Boerne Middle School South

In 2016, two schools reported one case each:

  • May 2016: Highlands High School

  • October 2016: Lanier High School

In fall 2014, LEE High School reported one case.

Additionally, in 2016, as many as 50 babies were exposed to tuberculosis at North Central Baptist Hospital.

The current vaccine also cannot be used for people with HIV or AIDS. The goal, however, is to save millions of lives by making the new vaccine safe for HIV patients, who make up a large percentage of TB cases.

"The probability of contracting TB for a healthy individual like all of us, is 5% in a lifetime. For HIV patients, the probability is 10% per year," Torrelles said.

Torrelles and his team will soon begin testing on primates and then move to human clinical trials. Since researchers are only making small modification, the vaccine is already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so if all of that goes smoothly, he said, the vaccine could be available in about six years.

The promising study is turning many heads, including those of Bill and Melinda Gates, as the Gates Foundation puts a lot of focus on world health.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.