New Drug for TB under Development

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As we acknowledge this World TB Day, a team of researchers in Australia have announced they have made a discovery in the development of a new drug to treat tuberculosis (TB). If their current course of research plays out, they will have developed the first new drug for the treatment of TB in nearly half a century.

Development of the new drug is being pursued by Dr. Nick West, associate faculty at Centenary Institute in Sydney, and his colleagues. The West team is working on a discovery that could cure TB in the inactive, or latent stage.

Tuberculosis is a contagious disease that, like the common cold, is transmitted through the air when infected individuals sneeze, cough, talk, or spit and send the bacilli into the air. Although one third of the people in the world are infected with TB, not everyone who is infected becomes ill, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The immune system protects the TB bacilli with a thick coating, allowing the infection to lie inactive (latent) for years.

From 5 to 10 percent of infected individuals become infectious or sick at some point during their life. The disease often becomes active when an individual’s immune system is weakened by the presence of another illness, stress, or other factors.

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Tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 9 million people become sick with the disease each year, and nearly 2 million people succumb to TB-related illness annually. The disease is the main cause of death in people who are infected with HIV.

Dr. West notes that currently available antibiotics are effective only against active TB and not against the latent form. “This is a major problem as 1 out of 10 people who have latent TB will develop the active disease, becoming sick and contagious.”

The discovery made by West and his colleagues involves a protein that TB needs to survive. They reportedly have “had some success in developing a drug that will inhibit this protein,” according to West. They are working to determine the full potential of their discovery.

Perhaps by this time next year, when World TB Day rolls around again, the new drug currently under development will be closer to reality. “If we can figure out a way to treat TB when it’s in a latent stage, then we could save millions of lives throughout the world,” says West. That would be cause for a celebration.

SOURCES:
Centenary Institute
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization

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