Babies given trial TB jab ‘that did not work on monkeys’

Oxford University scientists went ahead and gave human babies a trial tuberculosis (TB) vaccine that was found to ‘not work on monkeys’, it has been claimed.

Professor Peter Beverley, a former principal research fellow at the institution, made the allegation, which has since been denied.

He suggested scientists ignored worrying data, collected by Government officials, that showed primates given the booster jab seemed to ‘die rather rapidly’.

Professor Beverley told BBC’s File on Four that ‘there is no evidence whatsoever’ that the experimental jab was effective following the results of the trial.

Professor Peter Beverley, a former principal research fellow at Oxford University, said scientists ignored worrying data, collected by Government officials, that showed primates given the booster tuberculosis jab seemed to ‘die rather rapidly’ (stock)

What was the original study? 

The original Public Health England (PHE) monkey study in question, which began in 2006, involved 18 monkeys who were infected with TB.

Of the six primates who were given the experimental booster jab, called MVA85A, five became unwell and had to be put down, The Telegraph reports.

Death rates were lower for those monkeys who were solely given the existing BCG vaccine – which was first used in 1921. The study was published in the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

Professor Beverley said: ‘It certainly looks, when you look at the rate at which these animals died, that the MVA85A boosted group and the control untreated group all died rather rapidly.’

Application for funding 

Oxford University researchers applied for funding for a clinical trial on 2,800 babies 10 months after the PHE monkey study began.

But Professor Beverley claimed regulators weren’t given the results of the PHE study, which wasn’t testing the effectiveness of the jab but was a quest to find a new way of infecting animals with TB, when they came to assess the application.

A spokesperson for the university hit back and said that the monkey data was shared with South African regulators for them to make a decision.

But an inquiry it set-up following Professor Beverley’s complaint said it ‘would have been good’ for the data to have been shared in a ‘more timely fashion’.

The university, which found no wrongdoing, said the reason for the deaths of the monkeys was due to high levels of TB bacteria used in the study, 


One in 25 medical staff at some NHS hospitals could be infected with a ‘hidden’ form of tuberculosis, it emerged last week.

Scientists from Public Health England screened 469 clinical staff at one hospital trust in the north of England after two became ill with the contagious lung infection. 

They found that 128 had latent TB, where the bug is dormant but can become infectious at any time. Most hailed from India and the Philippines, where infection rates are high.

Scientists said the rate of latent infection at the trust equated to four per cent – one in 25 – of its 3,000-strong medical workforce.

Dr Onkar Sahota, chairman of the London Assembly health committee, said: ‘This is probably the same story up and down the country.’

Some 14 clinical trials had already been conducted into the use of the MVA85A vaccine on 424 people. All had found it to be safe.

Results of the human trial 

The human trial in South Africa, led by Professor Helen McShane, went ahead, and half of the babies in the trial were given the new vaccine.

Families involved in the study, who were paid the equivalent of £10 to take part, were told the ‘safe and effective’ vaccine had been tested on both humans and animals.

The vaccine was proved to be safe in all 1,399 infants who were given it, although it offered no increased protection against TB.

TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It killed 1.8 million in 2015.

The disease, which is caused by bacteria, attacks the lungs and typical symptoms include cough, fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, night sweats and weight loss.

It can spread to many parts of the body, including the bones and nervous system. A person can catch TB by being in the same room as an infected person. 

Despite years of searching for another vaccine, the only effective jab that exists is the BCG – which protects against TB in eight out of 10 people. 

Just last week scientists found that the BCG vaccine offers protection for at least 20 years, suggesting its power has been underestimated.

Before the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine findings, it was thought to work for only 10 to 15 years, The Guardian reports.