updated 2/13/2004 12:58:14 PM ET 2004-02-13T17:58:14

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $82.9 million — the largest grant ever awarded for the development of a tuberculosis vaccine — to the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation, officials announced Thursday.

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Dr. Richard Klausner, executive director of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health program, said the money will fund human trials of promising TB vaccines and will finance research on advanced vaccines.

The grant was announced on the opening day of the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Officials said some 2 billion people, about one out of every three on Earth, are infected with the TB pathogen. About 2 million people die annually of tuberculosis and the World Health Organization estimates that TB deaths will reach 36 million over the next two decades. TB is the leading killer of people with AIDS.

“It is unacceptable that TB continues to kill someone every 15 seconds when we have the ability to discover new tools to stop it,” said Klausner in a statement. “Through accelerated research and development, a new vaccine could permanently change the trajectory of the epidemic and save millions of lives each year.”

TB is usually treatable, but successful therapy can take six years and can require up to four different drugs which often aren’t available in developing countries, a Gates announcement said.

An existing vaccine that has been in use for decades is most useful to protect infants, but the effectiveness wears off as people age.

Dr. Jerald Sadoff, president of Aeras, said his organization’s goal is to develop a more effective TB vaccine within 10 years.

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