Despite the successes of multidrug therapy for improved treatment of patients and the advancement of chemoprophylactic regimen to contain infection in earlier stages within asymptomatic infected individuals, transmission of M. leprae – the bacterium that causes leprosy – continues and prevention remains beyond current reach. Accordingly, large numbers of new cases of leprosy emerge every year and the need to observe World Leprosy Day – this year on Jan. 27 — throughout the world remains.
While the physical effects of leprosy are well documented, as well as the stigma associated with the disease, a new report from ILEP shows that up to 50% of people affected by leprosy will face mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. The need for a vaccine to prevent and/or treat this devastating disease is greater than ever.
Through funding and partnership with leprosy focused organizations such as American Leprosy Missions, Damien Foundation, German Leprosy Relief Association, effect:hope, FAIRMED, Fondation Raoul Follereau, Leprosy Relief Canada, Netherlands Leprosy Relief, de Turing Foundation, the Novartis Foundation and Leprosy Research Initiative, among others, IDRI has developed LepVax, a modern day defined subunit vaccine. Building upon the observation that LepVax immunization provides control of M. leprae and relieves disease progression in controlled experimental settings, the vaccine has now successfully progressed through a phase I clinical safety trial in the United States.
In the next year, we will continue to expand our consortium to allow the transition of LepVax to leprosy-endemic countries and entry into the regulatory mechanisms that will ensure vaccine safety and oversight for those most in need. With these important and determined steps, we continue our march toward the day when the last Sunday of January each year can be remembered and observed in a different light – one where we can celebrate the end of this age-old disease.