The Challenge of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

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SALINE, Michigan — Each year, tuberculosis (TB) kills an estimated 1.3 million people. In other words, someone dies from TB—an entirely preventable and curable disease—every 25 seconds. TB-related deaths often occur due to an inability to receive treatment rather than the failure of the treatment itself.
Recently, however, strains of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) have been a larger cause for concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported last year that strains of drug-resistant TB were found in every country they examined. Cases of MDR-TB are most often created by inappropriate use of the standard drugs, such as a failure to complete treatment, which creates strains of the infection that are resistant.
The WHO found that over 95 percent of cases and deaths from tuberculosis occur in developing countries. Second-round TB antibiotics, back-ups used when the first-round drugs meet resistance, are often much more expensive and are not readily available in the countries hit hardest by TB. In order to create a world free from tuberculosis, an affordable treatment for MDR-TB is required.
Fortunately, the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance) is having success in the trial of a new TB treatment targeted at MDR-TB. The organization recently began widespread testing of its new drug regimen called PaMZ, a combination of two candidate drugs and a third pre-existing treatment. The TB Alliance is confident that PaMZ is a step in the right direction, noting that it is a “shorter, simpler and safer treatment for drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB.”
The Gates Foundation backs the TB Alliance’s efforts to develop new treatments. When announcing the new round of trials, Bill Gates said that “PaMZ could dramatically reduce the time required to cure drug-resistant TB from two years to just six months, and it could cut the cost of curing drug-resistant TB in low-income countries from thousands of dollars to just a fraction of that cost.”
Eliminating tuberculosis in poverty-stricken regions will require not only an inexpensive treatment option, but a new one not yet affected by antibiotic resistance. PaMZ is shaping up to be the best candidate to fill this need.
The TB Alliance’s research is also supported by governmental organizations like the United Kingdom Department for International Development and the US Agency for International Development. Tuberculosis is clearly a matter of international concern. However, PaMZ cannot continue in trials unless further funding is secured.
Dr. Mel Spigelmen, CEO of the TB Alliance, characterizes the new drug regimen as being in a “critical stage.” She has called for “new and expanded commitments…if we are to realize the significant potential of this treatment to save millions of lives.”
Tuberculosis is becoming more and more threatening due to the dangers of increased drug resistance. In addition, global poverty is driving the infection to the forefront of international health concerns, as it disproportionately affects the impoverished. Hopefully, PaMZ will have continued success in its upcoming trials as it promises a cost-effective treatment to drug-resistant tuberculosis.
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Emily Jablonski

Emily is a BORGEN Magazine writer based in Saline, Michigan.

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