The Unitat de Tuberculosi Experimental (Experimental Tuberculosis Unit, UTE), was founded by Dr. Pere-Joan Cardona in 1997 within the research group “Grup de Microbiologia Clínica i Patologia Infecciosa Experimental de la Fundació Institut d’Investigació en Ciències de la Salut Germans Trias i Pujol” (2009 SGR 1485), liderated by Dr. Vicenç Ausina. The UTE is now part of the Fundació Institut d’Investigació en Ciències de la Salut Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP).
The UTE focus its main research devoted to the Latent Tuberculosis Infection. The study of the immunopathology of the infection led Dr. Cardona to propose a new hypothesis to explain the Latent Tuberculosis Infection, in order to integrate the physiological and clinical human disease and the pathological and microbiologic aspects of the bacillus. This new hypothesis, named the Dynamic Hypothesis, led to new experiments on different animal models in order to better adjust the phenomenon of latency in humans (guinea pigs, minipigs and goats), as well as to the the design, patent and development of RUTI® as a therapeutic vaccine to shorten the chemotherapy of latent tuberculosis infection. RUTI®, invented by Dr Cardona, is based on the study of latent tuberculous bacilli and it has proved to generate immunogenicity against specific M.tuberculosis antigens. The vaccine is now entirely manufactured under GMP conditions and developed by the biotech company named Archivel Farma S.L., created as a spin-off of the IGTP and of which Dr. Pere-Joan Cardona was the scientific director during many years. RUTI® was recently tested in Phase II Clinical Trial in SouthAfrica, after demonstrating its safety and immunogenicity in a Phase 1 CT, and has also proved both a prophylactic and a post-exposure effect, generating 2 other patents. All the vaccine know-how was transferred, and the balance is that from the relationship of UTE with Archivel Farma SL and all the knowledge generated on RUTI® several thesis works have been issued, as well as knowledge and technical transference from the research to industry, including the training of the company’s staff.
Recent findings obtained in last scientific studies on LTBI have encouraged the UTE to develop new approaches to study the infection and specially its evolution towards active tuberculosis, in order to generate new and more efficient diagnostic and therapeutic tools.
The research of the UTE is also devoted to study the tuberculous lesions (granulomas) in experimental models, as well as the continuous development of new models in order to mimic better the human tuberculosis and its evolution, including mathematical approaches.
The wide experience of the Unit on experimental animal models, translational research and latent tuberculosis has permitted the UTE to be contacted by other research groups as well as by private companies to evaluate their new therapeutic strategies. The RUTI® project has given the UTE enough expertise to be well-considered by the scientific community on testing vaccine candidates on different animal models, and thus since 2005 the UTE has been collaborating with private biotech/biopharmaceutical companies (Archivel Farma S.L., Grup Ferrer, GlaxoSmithKline, Statens Serum Institute) and involved in several national and international consortiums (CRP-TB Consortium of the CIBERES net, funded by the Spanish Government; “Grand Challenge in global health” (GC#12) Consortium, “Preclinical and clinical evaluation of a post-exposure TB vaccine” funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and 3 european consortia funded by the 7th Framework Program of the European Commission (STOPLATENT-TB (grant agreement 200999), NEWTBVAC (241745) and NOPERSIST (FP7-SME-2008-1, 232188). The Unit is now involved as partner in the H2020 EU-funded Consortia TBVAC2020 (Grant nº643381) and the EMI-TB (Grant nº643558). Depending on the final aim of the contractor, we have a wide portfolio of experimental animal models and services to evaluate prophylactic/therapeutic strategies against Tuberculosis; and we are always open to new collaborations.
The recent research of the UTE on the evolution from latent infection towards active tuberculosis and the role that inflammation has in it, has led to a new patent and the creation of a new spin-off, Manresana de Micobacteriologia (MANREMYC) for the development of a new therapeutic strategy against TB, a food supplement called Nyaditum resae®. Dr Cardona is the CEO/CSO of this spin-off. Moreover, a new research line leaded by Dr Vilaplana has been created, with the aim to evaluate host-directed therapies in clinical trials. As result of these late projects, the UTE has joined the Africa-Europe Host Directed Therapies TB Clinical Trials Network (HDT-NET) created by Pr. Markus Maeurer and Pr. Alimuddin Zumla.
The UTE is also linked to the University (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), to the Microbiology and Genetics Department (Dr. Cardona, associate professor and Dr. Vilaplana, teaching assistant) and the Pathology Department (G. Tapia, lecturer). Dr Cardona and Dr Vilaplana were the organizers of the “Clinical TB Management Course” international post-graduate course in the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). Dr. Cardona is accredited as a professor by the ANECA (National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation) and both Dr Cardona and Dr Vilaplana are accredited for research and teaching activities by the AQU (Agència Catalana per la Qualitat). The UTE has also trained several people in animal experimentation, research on tuberculosis and vaccines’ development.
The UTE has organized three successful international Symposia (“1st Mediterranean Workshop on TB”, l’Escala, Catalonia (Sept 2010), accredited by the CCFCPS (Consell Català de Formació Continuada de les Professions Sanitàries) with 2.4 credits; the “TB Watch Symposium UOC”, with the collaboration of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)); and the Symposium “Mathematical Models of Tuberculosis” within the 45th Union world Conference of the IUATLD. We are now organizing a TB meeting in Empúries (L’Escala, Costa Brava, Catalonia): “Correlating Clinical and Experimental Pathology”, with the aim to gather basic researchers and clinicians to discuss the contribution of experimental animal models in the TB research field, and how experimental animal models could better mimic human disease.