Breakthrough approaches bring us one step closer to practical solutions to health challenges faced by people worldwide.

Developing better vaccines to prevent tuberculosis worldwide


The global burden of tuberculosis (TB) is staggering: Around the world, one person infected with the disease dies every 18 seconds. According to the World Health Organization, TB is “the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent,” killing more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS or any other infectious disease. The need for new approaches to target and end the global TB epidemic is clear.

The only existing vaccine for TB, called Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), is commonly administered to newborns. While the vaccine confers important health protections to infants and young children, its effects wear off over time, so that adolescents and adults may not be safeguarded against the disease.

In 2019, the FNIH announced the TB Vaccine project, funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Researchers at NIAID and the University of Pittsburgh are setting out to study whether the way the BCG vaccine is administered could make a difference in its long-term protective effects. The vaccine is currently delivered intradermally, or injected into the skin. Could intravenous delivery, or injection directly into the vein, better prevent TB?

The researchers will test intravenous injection in animal models to see if that technique better activates white blood cells that can help to trigger a powerful, long-lasting immune response. Using cutting-edge immune cell analysis, radiologic imaging, microbiology and pathology analyses, the scientists will learn more about the biological mechanisms of protection. Ultimately, the project’s goal is to use the study’s findings to inform a TB vaccine design of the future, bringing the world that much closer to solving this global public health affliction.

Filling a need of the nation’s leading research center

At the NIH Clinical Center — the nation’s premier hospital solely devoted to clinical investigation — patients are considered “active partners in medical discovery,” participating in experimental trials carried out by NIH institutes to receive treatment for their conditions and ultimately benefit scientific progress. The extensive list of research breakthroughs coming out of the NIH Clinical Center includes the first cures for childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease using chemotherapy, the first blood tests for AIDS and hepatitis, and the first gene therapy, to name just a few. To support such resource-intensive endeavors, the FNIH established the Clinical Center In-Kind Drug Donation Program to donate pharmaceuticals to the NIH Clinical Center. The program, which has provided nearly $16 million in drugs and therapeutics to the NIH since 2008, was supported in 2019 by a major gift from Horizon Therapeutics plc. “The generosity of the program has been a major boon to our patients and our program,” says Dr. Steven Holland, Director, Division of Intramural Research at NIAID.