A global health alliance launches trial for a new treatment regimen for tuberculosis.
The TB Alliance, which is funded by several governments and foundations, said the new drug combination offers promise in the fight against TB, which kills 1.4 million people each year, mostly in Africa.
"There is new momentum and new hope in TB research, as shown by this and several other novel regimen trials that will soon be launched," said Mel Spigelman, president and chief executive of the TB Alliance.
Health experts said the new treatment program could be particularly useful for an estimated 650,000 people around the world who suffer from multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), a number expected to rise.
"This novel TB drug regimen has the potential to unlock a new and more efficient approach to tackling TB. In essence, it's a step toward erasing the distinction between TB and MDR-TB -- and in the process, dramatically shortening, simplifying, and improving treatment," Spigelman said.
A total of 8.8 million people globally fell ill with the contagious lung disease in 2010 and around 1.4 million died, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Currently, someone with TB must take a course of drugs daily for six months, while those with MDR-TB must take a daily injection for the first six months and a dozen or more pills each day for 18 months or more.
The TB Alliance notes that many patients fail to complete treatment because they cannot tolerate the difficult side effects of the medications or can't adhere to the long treatment. This leads to drug resistant forms of the disease, or even extensively drug-resistant TB known as XDR-TB.
"The current TB treatment takes too long, and all around the world, patients needlessly suffer because today's treatment is completely inadequate," said Francis George Apina of the Network of Men Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.
"I applaud the TB Alliance for their work to advance new TB regimens and help patients... get back to work, and restore their health and their lives, faster."
The new regimen being tested could shorten the length of required treatment to as little as four months in both patients with TB and some forms of drug-resistant TB, compared with the current six to 24 months. The cost will also be vastly reduced.
Once known as "consumption" for the slow wasting away of terminally-ill patients, one out of every three people is thought to be infected by the airborne TB organism, though only a fraction go on to develop the disease.
The new trials will take place at eight sites in South Africa, Tanzania, and Brazil, the alliance said.
The TB Alliance operates with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Irish Aid, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the US Agency for International Development, and the US Food and Drug Administration.