GRASSROOTS health advocacy organisation RESULTS International (Australia) has applauded a new first in tuberculosis (TB) research and development, which was announced today by TB Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the United States.

The first-ever drug regimen designed to significantly shorten and simplify the treatment of both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) will advance to a global phase 3 clinical trial, based on encouraging results from earlier clinical trials.

The announcement was made earlier today by Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr Gates committed ‘significant funding’ from the Gates Foundation for the next phase of research for the regimen, which is called PaMZ, and issued a call for other donors to also invest in the effort to develop new TB treatments.

“Australian foreign aid funding towards TB Alliance last year, as part of the Government’s Medical Research Strategy, has significantly helped bring about this important progress,” Ms Maree Nutt, CEO of RESULTS International (Australia), said.

Developing new TB drugs has never been more urgent. TB kills 1.3 million people every year, more than half of these deaths occurring on Australia’s doorstep, and its drug-resistant strains are evolving quickly.

Current TB drug regimens take too long, are complicated to administer, and have harsh side effects. Despite these shortcomings, no new TB drugs have been developed for first line treatment against TB in 50 years.

According to TB Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to finding faster-acting and affordable drug regimens to fight TB, PaMz (PA-824+moxifloxacin+pyrazinamide) shows potential to reduce the time required to treat and cure drug-resistant TB from two years to just a few months.

PaMz also shows potential to reduce the time required to treat and cure drug-resistant TB from two years to just a few months. Currently, people with multi drug-resistant TB must stay on treatment for a minimum of 18 to 24 months, taking more than 12,000 pills.

Developing new drugs is a difficult and long-term undertaking, and a phase 3 clinical trial is the final and most expensive stage in the clinical trial process. This encouraging announcement comes at a time when donors are scaling back contributions to TB research and development; globally, TB research and development faces an annual funding gap of $1.4 billion.

“It is crucial that donors like Australia increase their investments in the new technologies needed to reduce regional and global burdens of TB,” Maree Nutt continued.

“With even limited investment, it is clear we are making progress to improve TB treatment,” Ms Nutt added.

“Imagine what can be achieved if our governments collectively step up and ensure TB research and development is fully-funded?”