Six institutions attended a virtual meeting this week to kick off the new initiative

Predicting the Future: Incipient Tuberculosis (PreFIT), a project financed by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), got underway this week. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the project kickoff meeting was held online between 30 March and 3 April. Throughout the week, 15 experts from six international institutions met online to discuss the activities that the PreFIT teams will be working on over the next five years.

“The aim of PreFIT is to reduce the morbidity and mortality of tuberculosis in Africa through early detection of the disease, before symptoms appear,” commented Frank Cobelens, the project’s international coordinator. One of the top ten causes of death worldwide, tuberculosis is especially lethal in patients with HIV infection, which is highly prevalent in Africa. In 2018, tuberculosis claimed the lives of approximately 1.5 million people worldwide, 215,000 of whom were HIV-positive.

Not everyone who contracts the bacterial infection becomes ill; some are asymptomatic and not contagious—a condition known as latent tuberculosis infection. However, the latent disease can progress to active tuberculosis, which causes lesions mainly in the lungs, but could also affect other areas of the body, including the kidneys, the spinal column or the central nervous system, among others. The aim of PreFIT is to contribute to the development of new diagnostic tools to predict the progression of latent tuberculosis to active disease. “If these diagnostic techniques are efficient, they have great potential to reduce the morbidity and mortality of tuberculosis in Africa, because they make it possible to ramp up preventive treatment strategies,” explains Alberto García-Basteiro, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) who is involved in the project. PreFIT will provide a package of assays for diagnosing incipient tuberculosis, which is a stage of latent tuberculosis infection likely to progress towards active disease that can be halted with preventive treatment.

The PreFIT consortium is being coordinated by Frank Cobelens, director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development in the Netherlands. The other five institutions involved are ISGlobal, the Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM) in Mozambique, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Makerere University in Uganda and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Switzerland. The project started on 1 February 2020 and will run until 31 January 2025.

Group photo of investigators involved in PreFIT. The meeting is virtual due to travel restrictions imposed by current COVID-19 situation.