Brussels, 24 March 2009
Over the course of three years, international teams of scientists from both the academic and private sectors have been researching new therapies to cure TB in 34 research groups. They come from 14 different countries - Switzerland, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Slovakia, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Denmark, Korea, the USA, the Russian Federation, South Africa and India - and worked within the framework of an EU-funded research project entitled 'New Medicines for Tuberculosis' (NM4TB). Their research has had good results: it has led to the development of a drug candidate that proved effective against tuberculosis and did not create side-effects when tested in laboratories. The development of this new drug is an illustration of how important it is to cooperate internationally. The fight against TB is a global concern that must be addressed through such global cooperative efforts.
Tuberculosis (TB), one of the oldest infectious diseases known to man, is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. One third of the world's population is infected with it, and it kills nearly two million people worldwide every year. Someone dies from the disease every 15 seconds, and 30 million more people will lose their lives to TB in the next decade. Most new cases occur in Asia or Africa. Although antibiotics slowed the epidemic in Europe in the 1950s-1970s, it is again becoming a public health issue due to the emergence of multidrug-resistant strains which contaminate 490,000 people each year, particularly in the former Soviet Union. This infectious disease spreads very quickly since it is spread through the air when a person with TB coughs, for example.
The new drug inhibits an enzyme that TB needs to infect a person, and without this enzyme, the bacterium explodes. Identifying this target was in itself the major discovery in this research since it paves the way for further therapeutic prospects. The drug is now exiting pre-clinical research, and it will soon be clinically tested in humans. The most important outcome is that a new drug could be available in under 10 years.
NM4TB is a 5 years project (2006-2011) that runs an ambitious drug discovery project that combines some of Europe's leading academic TB researchers with a major pharmaceutical company and three SMEs, all of whom share a strong commitment to discovering new anti-infective treatments. The Commission provided over €11 million out of an overall budget of €13 million.
Useful link: http://www.nm4tb.org/
On FP7 contribution to poverty-related diseases
EDCTP initiative: http://www.edctp.org/