New drug treatment could dramatically speed up TB cure

21 July 2014 - Melbourne, Australia - A new combination of drugs means that drug-resistant TB can be cured in as little as four months instead of two years, according to research presented today at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

The drug combination, known as the PaMZ regimen, killed more bacteria than standard treatment and was effective in treating both drug-sensitive TB and some forms of multidrug-resistant TB, as well as being compatible with anti-retroviral treatments in HIV patients. Developed by the TB Alliance with partners from around the world, PaMZ is one of the most significant potential innovations in the fight against TB/HIV in decades.

"This shows its potential to shorten therapy ... for drug-sensitive and some forms of multi-drug-resistant TB," said Dr Mel Spigelman, chief executive of TB Alliance.

"Seventy-one per cent of people treated with PaMZ were cleared of bacteria at the end of two months when evaluated with the most sensitive diagnostic methods available," the report authors found.

"Only 38 percent of people treated with standard therapy were clear at eight weeks."

WHO estimates that two billion people are infected with the bacillus that causes TB, a global pandemic that kills 1.4 million each year. Today’s TB drug regimen takes too long to cure, is too complicated to administer and can be toxic. As a result, many patients do not or cannot complete their treatment, which leads to the development of deadlier drug-resistant straights, which can then be spread directly. Shorter, simpler and novel TB treatments are needed to successfully combat both TB and multidrug-resistant TB.

Despite the flaws with and growing resistance to current TB treatments, no new TB drugs have been developed in nearly 50 years, and despite some recent advances in MDR-TB therapy, its treatment remains complex, lengthy and prohibitively expensive for most patients and high-burden countries. Even when treated along WHO guidelines, more than one in three MDR-TB patients do not achieve cure.

The third phase of the clinical drug trial will be a global endeavour slated to enrol more than 1500 patients in more than 50 sites in 10 countries. If PaMZ performs successfully in the trial, it will proceed to global registration and be made available to the people who need it.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a significant amount of funding in support of the trial. Earlier this year, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation called on other organizations to support the trial financially. "The results from early phase research suggest that this new drug regimen could provide the break though we need to accelerate progress against this deadly and dangerous disease," said Mr Gates.

"Now we need funders to step forward to make next-generation TB drugs like PaMZ a reality."

Resources: Please refer to the factsheet developed by the TB Alliance which gives more information on how PaMZ aims to revolutionize TB treatment.