New Drug Therapies
Despite having been around for centuries now, tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO): "In 2015, there were an estimated 10.4 million new (incident) TB cases worldwide, of which 5.9 million (56%) were among men, 3.5 million (34%) among women and 1.0 million (10%) among children."
While there are existing drug treatments for both ordinary TB and its drug-resistant variants, these usually take months and include a barrage of tablets and injections. Two new drug therapies — called BPaMZ and BPaL — are currently in the development pipeline, and may be a match for all forms of TB including the drug-resistant ones which are most difficult to treat.
“We will have something to offer every single patient,” said Mel Spigelman, president of TB Alliance, which is coordinating the trials of both treatments. “We are on the brink of turning TB around.” Existing TB drug treatments require patients to take up to 20 tablets a day, coupled with a battery of injections. With treatment, it usually takes six months to cure ordinary TB, and could take up to two years for drug-resistant infections. On the other hand, BPaMZ involves taking just four drugs per day, while BPaL requires only three drugs a day.
The TB Alliance found the results of the trials they conducted with BPaMZ and BPaL to be promising. BPaMZ was tested on 240 people from 10 African countries, and showed that it could cure almost all cases of ordinary TB in just four months, while curing drug-resistant TB cases in about six months. Furthermore, in most cases, traces of TB bacterium disappeared from sputum within two months. Likewise, BPaL was able to cure 40 of 60 patients with "extremely-drug-resistant TB" within just six months.
“The alliance has never before seen such rapid action against TB bacteria,” Spigelman said. These results results were presented in Seattle this week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. BPaMZ could treat 99 percent of TB cases each year, while BPaL could treat the rest, the TB Alliance believes.
Larger trials are needed to confirm these findings, Spigelman said. This could mean three more years for BPaMZ, but sooner for BPaL. “The results are exciting and encouraging, but we must be cautious saying we can treat everyone with these regimes,” David Moore at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said. “These are only preliminary data, so there’s a danger of jumping the gun.”