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India Finds New Use for an Old Bug

accine combination reduced the treatment time. And the results are reported to be amazing.

Hasnain says the ongoing clinical trials aim to find out the ability of the Mw vaccine in treating TB rather than preventing it. The trials are conducted on four categories of TB patients - from uncomplicated to chronic cases - including the hard to treat multi-drug resistant (MDR) cases.

Data from one of the centres shows that four shots of the vaccine at 15 days interval (given in addition to drugs) increase the cure rate to 82 percent even in MDR category. In uncomplicated cases (category 1), patients' sputum becomes completely negative for TB germs after just one shot.

Another important finding is that the vaccine induced sputum conversion after a single shot in 48 out of 50 AIDS patients suffering from tuberculosis.

According to Talwar, introducing the Mw vaccine for tuberculosis control programme should not face problems in India from regulatory angle because it is an already approved vaccine for leprosy and is commercially manufactured by Cadila Pharmaceuticals in Ahmedabad.

Talwar's group at AIIMS found the Mw organism among the collections in a tuberculosis hospital in Madras, now Chennai. The fact that it was a fast growing harmless organism that shared many of its antigens with M.leprae -- the organism that causes leprosy - led Talwar and his colleagues to use the organism for developing an anti-leprosy vaccine in 1981.

Ten years later the Indian health ministry launched a trial of the vaccine on a leprosy endemic population of 420,000 in Uttar Pradesh.

Although it was a leprosy vaccine trial, the last survey in 2001 sprang a surprise: the number of new TB cases in vaccinated group was less than half of that in the unvaccinated control group.

This unexpected observation prompted the DBT and the Indian Council of Medical Research to take a fresh look at Mw and the vacc
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