Newswise — July 27, 2021 – Nutley, NJ – Scientists from the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) were awarded $6.4 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to pursue an innovative new tuberculosis (TB) vaccine concept.

The only TB vaccine available, Bacille Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, is very unreliable. The team proposes to improve BCG by engineering it to stimulate the development and communication of B cells, an important part of the immune system. With this strategy, the researchers hope to develop a second-generation TB vaccine which provides reliable protection from new infections and can even help to cure existing TB infections by complementing antibiotic therapy.

The novel approach could prove to be a critical breakthrough in the infection, which kills 1.4 million annually, and mostly in the developing world.

“This strategy of designing a B cell targeting TB vaccine is completely new and has not been tried before,” said Martin Gengenbacher, an assistant member of the CDI, and leader of the project. ““Right now, we have five novel recombinant BCG vaccine candidates that are ready to be tested in our advanced preclinical models. We are excited it could make a huge difference for global health.”

“This grant shows the promise of Gengenbacher’s work,” said David Perlin, PhD., the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI. “If it proves efficacious, this could be a game changer for this devastating disease which still kills 1.4 million people globally each year but flies under the radar all too often in the developed world." 

BCG, the existing vaccine, has been around for a century. But it has limitations, since it has proven only effective in children and doesn’t fully prevent disease. That leaves adults, who make the majority of clinical TB cases unprotected – accounting for a staggering 10 million new cases per year.

The BCG replacement vaccine VPM1002 was invented by Gengenbacher’s mentor Stefan Kaufmann, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, who gave a talk in December 2019 at the CDI. Gengenbacher completed genetic modifications before large clinical trials could be pursued. VPM1002 is heading toward full clinical development and production.

Gengenbacher and the team propose a different strategy than most other researchers: increase quantity and life span of the body’s own B cells to fight the TB bacteria. Using high parameter flow cytometry available at the CDI, Gengenbacher and his team have identified a novel type of B-cells that contribute to the control of TB infection. The translational approach involves CDI scientists genetically engineering BCG to promote B cell development and survival – which also presumably includes their newly discovered protective B cell subsets.

Consequently, the scientists hypothesize the body will effectively fight off the bacteria.

"Our researchers at Hackensack Meridian Health have done incredible work to advance care for our patients, as we showed during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Ihor Sawczuk, M.D., FACS, chief research officer and Northern Region president for the network. "But we also have a global reach to improve the lives of patients, like with this promising TB project." 



Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care.

Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children’s hospitals - Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals - JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Shore Rehabilitation Institute in Brick.

Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 36,000 team members, and 7,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The network’s notable distinctions include having four of its hospitals are among the top hospitals in New Jersey for 2020-21, according to U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, the health system has more top-ranked hospitals than any system in New Jersey. Children’s Health is again ranked a top provider of pediatric health care in the United States and earned top 50 rankings in the annual U.S. News’ 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals report.   Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and being named to Becker’s Healthcare’s “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare/2019” list

The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its first class of students in 2018 to its campus in Nutley and Clifton. The Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), housed in a fully renovated state-of-the-art facility, seeks to translate current innovations in science to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer, infectious diseases and other life-threatening and disabling conditions.

Additionally, the network partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to find more cures for cancer faster while ensuring that patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it.

Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies.


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About the Center for Discovery and Innovation

The Center for Discovery and Innovation, a newly established member of Hackensack Meridian Health, seeks to translate current innovations in science to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer, infectious diseases and other life-threatening and disabling conditions. The CDI, housed in a fully renovated state-of-the-art facility, offers world-class researchers a support infrastructure and culture of discovery that promotes science innovation and rapid translation to the clinic.

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