Novel tuberculosis vaccine tested in a large phase 3 trial against severe respiratory infection disease

Researchers are investigating whether the vaccine candidate VPM1002 – originally developed against tuberculosis by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin – is also protective against COVID-19 infection.

A large-scale study has been carried out at several hospitals in Germany and included older people that are susceptible to severe disease. VPM1002 induces specific immunity against tuberculosis, but at the same time mobilises innate immunity, which is immediately effective against a variety of pathogens.

The current randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial studied the effect of VPM1002 on the severe disease among elderly people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial was conducted in a phase of the pandemic with rigorous hygienic measures and a low overall infection rate.

Following 240 days, VPM1002-vaccinated patients, compared to placebo-treated participants, had fewer days with severe respiratory disease, fewer days with fever and a trend towards fewer hospital and intensive care admissions.

The action of the candidate has been further reinforced by a subgroup analysis of participants not receiving the COVID-19 specific vaccine where days with severe respiratory tract infection was significantly reduced.

Meanwhile, the effect of trained immunity seen with VPM1002 is in line with trials performed with Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) and other live vaccines and, indeed, may be even more pronounced. VPM1002 is safer than BCG and, in future, could contribute to the wider reduction of disease burden from respiratory diseases across the elderly population.

“We decided from the beginning to improve classical BCG genetically in a way to exploit all its advantages. VPM1002 has turned out not only to be specific against the tuberculosis pathogen but has also the ability to train the immunity,” reflected Professor Stefan Kaufmann, the creator of VPM1002.