Doctors hail ‘game changer’ drug after it ‘CURES 90% of patients battling tuberculosis’ in breakthrough trial

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  • The treatment for a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis cured 9 in 10 patients 
  • Just 55% of those with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are successfully treated
  • The world’s deadliest infectious disease killed at least 1.7 million people in 2017

Doctors have hailed a new treatment for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis after it totally cured 93 per cent of patients in a breakthrough trial. Currently, around half of people with MDR tuberculosis are successfully treated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The new treatment, which uses the drug bedaquiline alongside a cocktail of other antibiotics, has been branded a ‘game changer’. Doctors in Belarus tested the method on 168 patients battling the infection over a few months.

The country, situated in the eastern bloc of Europe, has one of the highest rates of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the world.

Tuberculosis – which can be spread by person to person – killed at least 1.7 million people in 2017, according to the WHO.  MDR tuberculosis is immune to two of the most common and powerful antibiotics used to treat the disease – isoniazid and rifampicin.

Experts believe it is spreading worldwide due to poor handling of tuberculosis cases.Variants of MDR tuberculosis have been reported in at least 117 countries around the world, according to the WHO.

The findings of the Republican Research and Practical Centre for Pulmonology and TB in Minsk trial, were seen exclusively by AFP.

Paula Fujiwara, scientific director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, welcomed the results.

She said: ‘The results from this study confirm… newer drugs like bedaquiline can cure and are game changers for people living with MDR tuberculosis.’

The Belarus trial’s success rate was largely replicated in bedaquiline trials in other countries in eastern Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread between people by coughing and sneezing and is the world's deadliest infectious disease (stock)


Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection spread between people by coughing and sneezing and is the world’s deadliest infectious disease (stock)

Lead researcher Dr Alena Skrahina said: ‘Generally, our study confirms the effectiveness of bedaquiline in previous clinical trials.’ Bedaquiline – branded as Sirturo – was approved as TB drug five years ago, but has the potential to affect the heart’s electric cycle.

The WHO advises caution when administering this medication and recommends that strict monitoring procedures be put in place. Dr Skrahini added the trial did not ‘confirm the concerns about safety problems with the drug’. 

Unlike many antibiotics, bedaquiline doesn’t attack the bacteria directly and instead targets the enzymes that the disease relies on for its energy.

All of the patients in the study experienced side effects but these were less severe than previously thought. Despite the huge death toll, tuberculosis receives roughly a tenth of the global research funding that goes to HIV/AIDS.

Unlike other global killers such as HIV, tuberculosis is curable – but currently only under a strict six-month supervised regimen involving multiple daily drug doses.    

Last month, UN member states agreed a global plan to fight tuberculosis and to facilitate cheaper access to vital drugs. On the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York, world leaders pledged $13billion annually to end the tuberculosis epidemic – up from $700million currently.

Unlike the battle against HIV, which has received high-profile celebrity backing, tuberculosis is often seen as a historic affliction effecting only remote and undeveloped parts of the world.

Scientists and policymakers gather this week in The Hague for a global conference on lung health. They are expected to warn TB could spread through richer nations currently struggling with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity.  

What is DRUG-RESISTANT tuberculosis?

Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is tuberculosis that does not respond to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the 2 most powerful anti-TB drugs. 

It accounts for about 4.1% of new TB cases and about 19% of previously treated TB cases were estimated to have either rifampicin or multi drug resistant TB in 2016.

Most people with TB are cured by a strictly followed, 6-month drug regimen. However inappropriate or incorrect use of antimicrobial drugs, or use of ineffective formulations of drugs (such as use of single drugs, poor quality medicines or bad storage conditions), and premature treatment interruption can cause drug resistance.

It continues to spread due to mismanagement of TB treatment and person-to-person transmission. 

Globally in 2016 the total number of people estimated to have a type of multi-drug resistant TB was 600,000.

In 2016 it caused approximately 240,000 deaths. The countries with the largest numbers of MDR/RR-TB cases (47% of the global total) were China, India and the Russian Federation. 

Treatment options are limited and expensive, and in some countries, it is becoming increasingly difficult to treat MDR-TB.



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