TB claims over 5,000 lives every day - what are we doing about it?

Monday, 15 March 2010

TB is claiming more lives than ever before. In the fight against this deadly disease, we are applying our own skills in infection research and working with others in the global effort to find urgently needed new treatments.

TB is one of the leading causes of death from infectious disease worldwide, claiming over 5,000 lives every day. Existing TB therapies are effective, but treatment regimes are long and complicated – which means that patients may give up taking the medicine once the symptoms are no longer apparent but before the infection is fully treated. This can lead to relapse and makes drug resistance more likely. Multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB is the most aggressive form of the disease. Around 85% of people who develop MDR TB do not survive.

The need for new and improved therapies is urgent– but it is a significant research challenge. To make a real difference in the treatment of TB, a new medicine needs to act on drug-resistant strains, simplify the treatment regime and be compatible with HIV/AIDS therapies (TB and HIV/AIDS form a lethal combination, each speeding the other’s progress).


Dedicated TB research


Backed by our skills and experience in infection research, we joined the global effort to find new TB therapies in 2003, with the opening of our $20 million dedicated TB research centre in Bangalore, India.

Over 80 scientists work there and they have full access to all AstraZeneca’s platform technologies, such as high throughput screening and compound libraries. They also work closely with our infection research centre in Boston, US, as well as with external academic leaders, to capture and share best practice. We continue to invest over $5 million each year in this research effort.

Like everyone else working in this field, our ultimate goal is the eradication of TB. My team in Bangalore is focused on finding a drug that can do a number of things. In particular, we want to shorten the amount of time needed for treatment. By making it easier for patients to finish their course, we can avoid the dangerous relapses which are bad for the patient and give the disease the chance to develop drug resistance. Importantly, a new drug also needs to be compatible with HIV therapies because TB is the leading killer of people with HIV infection. It’s a real challenge, but we are making some good progress”.

Bala Tanjore

Head of Research in Bangalore explains the direction of Bangalore’s research

Working together, and with others, our scientists are building a robust portfolio of compounds with high potential to deliver significant advances in the treatment of TB.

  • In December 2009, our first candidate TB drug, AZD5847, entered clinical trials (phase I – testing in man). AZD5847 showed potential in pre-clinical studies as a treatment for MDR TB and if phase I testing proves successful, we will work in collaboration with external partners on its further clinical development.
  • Working in collaboration with the European Framework 6 consortium, our researchers in Bangalore have identified a new class of compounds with potential as a novel TB treatment. The findings were published in Science (2009), a leading academic journal, and we continue to explore the potential for development of this new compound class.
  • Researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the US discovered that meropenem, our marketed antibiotic for hospital-acquired infection, is also active against drug-resistant strains of TB. We have donated supplies of meropenem for an NIH-sponsored research project combining meropenem and clavulanic acid (a component of another marketed antibiotic) to assess the combination’s potential as a treatment for MDR TB. This ongoing research is being conducted in South Korea.
  • We are also exploring options for collaborative programmes with external organisations which will facilitate a greater leverage of resources and expertise for TB drug discovery.

We will agree the development of current and future TB candidate drugs in consultation with regulatory authorities and external experts. Development research will be done principally in countries with high rates of infection and we will work with external partners with relevant skills and expertise. We will oversee all development activity to ensure that it is conducted in line with our global ethical standards.

We will apply for patent protection in the normal way and we will seek partnership arrangements with the appropriate global and local organisations to make our TB treatment available widely available in the developing world through supply strategies that minimise cost of manufacture and delivery.

LabTalk is AstraZeneca’s science-focused blog where you can hear from scientists, researchers and academics discussing novel ideas, research and innovation.

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