$30M contract will establish TB immunology research centers across the country

Tuberculosis (TB) is the number-one cause of death from an infectious disease in the world: In 2017, the most recent data available, 10 million people developed TB and 1.6 million died.

Today, nearly 1.7 billion people globally are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), a germ spread by airborne transmission. Between 5% and 10% of those infected will develop TB, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

W. Henry Boom and a team of collaborators nationally received the first installment of a seven-year contract, totaling $30 million in its first year from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH, to establish three immunology research centers to accelerate TB vaccine development.

Photo of W. Henry Boom
W. Henry Boom

Boom, director of the TB Research Unit and professor of medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases & HIV Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, is one of three co-principal investigators (PI) for the program. Additional co-PIs for the program are Sarah Fortune, professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and JoAnne Flynn, professor at the University of Pittsburgh. As the team reaches its milestones, the contract will amount to $60 million over seven years.

The research centers are called “Immune Mechanisms of Protection against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (IMPAc-TB) Centers.” The IMPAc-TB program aims to make an impact on a global scale by accelerating TB vaccine development. Researchers will study immune responses needed to prevent initial infection, establish latent infection, and transition to active TB. Every aspect of research from basic, to translational, to clinical science will be involved in this project.

“Our purpose is to breakdown the silos that exist between basic science and translational sciences and animal models and human disease,” Boom said. “My collaborators will use cutting-edge molecular and cell biology as well as animal models, and my role will be to build on that research at a global, human scale with clinical studies in London, Uganda and South Africa.”

Because TB isn’t prevalent in the United States, human research must have a global footprint, Boom said. However, this approach will also provide the team access to regional variations in data. And because TB is an essential piece of the HIV epidemic, an additional goal of the program is to understand the effects of co-infections like HIV on immune responses to Mtb infection or TB vaccines, he said.

“Collaboration was essential for receiving this contract,” Boom said. “Case Western Reserve has been partnering with Makerere University in Uganda for more than 30 years, and working together with UH to advance tuberculosis research on a global scale.”  

Other members of IMPAc-TB’s CWRU/UHCMC research team include John Johnson, Richard Silver and Cathy Stein and Moses Joloba, Harriet Mayanja and William Worodria of the Uganda-CWRU Research Collaboration.

Boom said TB continues to be a problem because it disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged and underserved in crowded, urban settings. “The global partnership between our medical school, academic medical center and Uganda is very important,” he said, “as we discover what’s driving this epidemic and work to reach underserved populations that have poor public health.”


For more information, contact Bill Lubinger at william.lubinger@case.edu.