The team, led by researchers at the University of York, have successfully tested a “third generation” vaccine and demonstrated it is safe and induces the right type of immune response in healthy volunteers.
Leishmaniasis is spread by the bite of sand flies, and is a severely neglected poverty-related disease, resulting in up to one million new cases each year across 98 countries.
Some forms of the disease are fatal without treatment, whereas others cause significant scarring, leading to reduction in life chances, stigmatisation and social exclusion, particularly for children and women.
Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) is the most severe form of the disease, responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths each year mostly in East Africa, South Asia and Brazil.
Professor Paul Kaye from the Centre for Immunology and infection, part of the University of York’s Department of Biology and Hull York Medical School, said the study, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, was a “landmark” moment.
He said: “I think this is a major step forward for progressing the UK’s commitment to developing new tools for combating neglected tropical diseases.
“We have shown that this vaccine is safe and that it induces the right type of immune responses in healthy volunteers.
“We are now able to move fairly rapidly into further clinical development and testing of safety in Africa where the disease is the major problem.”
The study involved 20 healthy UK volunteers and was done in collaboration with York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and funded by the Wellcome Trust.
A third generation vaccine uses DNA from a pathogen, which prompts the body’s cells to make the proteins necessary to induce an immune response.
The team have already begun the first Phase II study – testing whether the new vaccine is safe to use in patients. The new trial was started in Sudan last October and the results of that trial will be known later this year.
Professor Charles Lacey, who lead the UK trial, added: “It can often take over 10 years for new vaccines to be tested in people. Not only have we halved that time, but importantly we have moved very rapidly to testing it in the people that matter, which is the patient population in Africa.”