Four-in-one TB pill could help reduce drug-resistance

15 April 2011 - Geneva - A new study has found that taking a four-in-one combination pill for tuberculosis (TB) yields similar results to taking the four drugs separately.

The finding is a significant step towards more effective TB control, the authors say. Combination drugs are easier to administer, require fewer pills, and could therefore prevent drug resistant strains developing when patients skip pills or fail to complete the course.

The study, authored by a team including the Stop TB Partnership's senior scientist Christian Lienhardt, reports on a randomized, controlled trial conducted in 11 sites in Africa, Asia and Latin America between 2003 and 2008.

A total of 1585 patients with newly diagnosed tuberculosis were treated over a 6-month period, with half given the combination pill and half given the four drugs separately for the initial two months of intensive four drug therapy.

The team found that patients taking the combination pill were marginally less likely to show full evidence of a TB cure and no signs of relapse 18 months after treatment began. However, the authors strongly recommend that the four-in-one pill is adopted by national TB programmes because of its ease of use and potential in preventing drug-resistance.

"The combined pill makes it much easier for patients to take all their medicine and complete the course, which is the best way to combat drug resistance," says Dr Lienhardt.

The study was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA.