Better, shorter TB treatment – thanks to SA scientists

Better, shorter TB treatment – thanks to SA scientistsThe lung x-ray of an MDR-TB patient on her fourth week of treatment.

South African scientists may be en route to developing shorter, better tuberculosis (TB) treatment, according to research released at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

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The TB Alliance's combination of PA-824,  moxifloxacin and pyrazinamide could reduce treatment time for TB patients as well as some MDR-TB patients
The TB Alliance’s combination of PA-824, moxifloxacin and pyrazinamide could reduce treatment time for TB patients as well as some MDR-TB patients

Researchers from the universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch and the Free State were part of the international team that recently discovered that a new combination of drugs was able to kill more TB bacteria more quickly than standard treatment.

The results come after an eight-week trial involving about 200 TB patients from South Africa and Tanzania. Patients either received standard TB treatment – or a novel combination of drugs including the new anti-TB drug PA-824, as well as moxifloxacin and pyrazinamide.

The study is the longest study to date of the new three-drug combination, according to Dr Rodney Dawson, head of research innovation at the University of Cape Town’s Lung Institute.

According to results released yesterday, about 70 percent of patients on the new drug combination showed no sign of TB in sputum samples after two months in comparison to only 50 percent of those patients on standard TB treatment.

This new drug combination could potentially shorten standard TB treatment from the current six months to just four, Dawson told Health-e News Service.

With about 20 percent of the study sample comprised of HIV-positive patients, the study showed that the new treatment combination could safely be taken in conjunction with antiretrovirals.

In South Africa, about 60 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV

[quote float=”right”]The new combination could work for TB patients as well as up to 30 percent of MDR-TB patients

Importantly, the study may also pave the way for shorter, easier treatment for multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB) patients, which comprised about 10 percent of the study sample.

Researchers found that MDR-TB patients responded similarly well to the new combination. This could mean the three-drug combination could reduce MDR-TB treatment by about 16 months, cut the number of pills by 97 percent and greatly reduce costs, according to TB Alliance.

However, Dawson cautions that these results will only apply to the up to 30 percent of MDR-TB patients whose illnesses will respond to pyrazinamide.

MDR-TB is resistant to both of the most commonly used anti-TB drugs, rifampicin and isoniazid. In 2012, South Africa diagnosed more than 15000 MDR-TB cases, according to the World Health Organisation.

A longer, follow-up study on the novel drug trio is set to start in 2015. The 1500-person study will be conducted in 10 countries – including South Africa, China and Zambia – and should produce results by 2018. – Health-e News Service.