Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have led an international collaborative study, coordinated by BIOASTER, which will develop blood-based biomarkers to improve early tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis.
Tuberculosis continues to be a major cause of death worldwide, resulting in approximately 1.5 million deaths annually. An estimated two billion people worldwide have been infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes TB, although only 5-10% of those infected will develop clinically active disease. There is a great need for early diagnosis of those asymptomatic infected people who are likely to progress to active TB, to help doctors target early treatment and help to control the spread of the disease.
A consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been disruption in TB health services and outreach programmes, and thus cases of TB are projected to rise for several years.
The Crick, along with BIOASTER and the University of Leicester have signed a licensing agreement for the development of biomarker tests that can be used to tell if a person has early active TB whilst still without symptoms. The biomarkers have the sensitivity to pick up the disease before the onset of symptoms.
The biomarkers were first identified in 2018 as part of research at the Crick and University of Leicester. In their work, the scientists showed how 20 key host immune markers could be used to distinguish patients with active TB from those with asymptomatic latent infection with M. tuberculosis, meaning they were infected with pathogen but did not have any TB symptoms.
Anne O’Garra, a lead author and group leader of the Immunoregulation and Infection Laboratory at the Crick says: “Being able to take a group of asymptomatic people who are latently infected with M. tuberculosis and tell if an individual is likely to develop symptoms of TB disease or will remain latent and asymptomatic is a powerful tool. It would enable doctors to start treatment before symptoms start, sparing patients and their families from unpleasant symptoms, as well as to treat people in low-income and middle-income countries and thus reduce the spread of disease as well as to offer peace of mind to people who are not going to develop active TB.”
Nathalie Garcon CSO of BIOASTER said: “The signature of this licensing agreement demonstrates the capacity of BIOASTER, in collaboration with its academic and industrial partners, to deliver biomarkers of added medical value in Tuberculosis from research phase to industrial development. “
Veronique Birault, Director of Translation at the Crick, said: “This licensing agreement is a significant step forward in turning our biological understanding of TB into a clinically useful test with the potential to save lives. We’re thrilled to be working with BIOASTER and the University of Leicester to make this a reality.”