Serum Institute of India acquires rights to TB vaccine

Researchers continue to refine classic BCG tuberculosis vaccine

The picture shows bacteria of the attenuated tuberculosis vaccine strain (BCG) inside a macrophage, a scavenger cell of the immune system. Credit: MPI for Infection Biology-CF Microscopy/Volker Brinkmann

Serum Institute of India, a Pune-based manufacturer of vaccines, is planning on taking a promising vaccine – originally developed in Germany – and introducing it into the clinic. Studies have shown that the new vaccine is more effective and better tolerated than currently available options.

By signing a contract with Hannover-based Vakzine Projekt Management (VPM), Serum has secured the licence to the various patents and technologies related to the new vaccine.

Scientists from the Max Planck Society, VPM and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research co-developed the candidate vaccine called VPM1002 as part of a joint research project. It is currently undergoing Phase II clinical testing.

‘The new vaccine is showing a lot of promise, the concept itself is highly innovative,’ said Umesh Shaligram, Serum Institute of India’s Director of Research and Development. ‘We are looking forward to working with Vakzine Projekt Management and hope that over the next years, we will see the vaccine successfully secure market authorisation for global distribution.’

VPM1002 is based on another vaccine that was first introduced in 1921 called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG). The vaccine, which consists of attenuated pathogens, prompts the human immune system to mount a response against the germ. Today, the use of these types of live vaccines has become standard, but the special thing about VPM1002 is that it is being continually refined using gene technology, causing it to prevent diseases more effectively and safely than its predecessor. Preclinical studies, two Phase I clinical trials, and one Phase II clinical trial have already met expectations.

Stefan Kaufmann, founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, developed the scientific basis for VPM1002. VPM then developed the new vaccine after licensing it from Max Planck Innovation and with support from Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, ultimately taking it to the clinical trial stage.

‘To this day, BCG is still the single most commonly administered vaccine,’ says Kaufmann. However, it frequently no longer works as well as it used to. Kaufmann’s ultimate goal is making BCG more effective and, at the same time, safer.

Leander Grode also played an important role in the new vaccine’s development – first as one of Kaufmann’s scientific associates, and now as a Project Manager at VPM.

‘We successfully tweaked the original vaccine to be better at activating the human immune system and thus afford more effective and safer protection against the tuberculosis pathogen,’ said Grode.

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