Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Funding boost for research into TB and malaria drugs

    Sophie Hebden


Efforts to improve health in developing nations received a boost this week with news of major funding to find faster-acting tuberculosis drugs, and a new partnership aiming to develop the next generation of malaria drugs.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is providing US$104 million for the TB research, according to an announcement made today (25 May) by the TB Alliance, a public-private partnership that will undertake the work.

The money will accelerate the development of 11 potential drugs, with the long-term goal of treating the disease with just ten doses.

Current TB drugs were developed more than 40 years ago, involve about 130 doses and take at least six months to work.

"New treatments could free patients from the gruelling six-month regimen and, ultimately, save millions of lives," says Peter Small, senior program officer at the Gates Foundation.

Multi-drug resistant forms of the TB bacterium are more likely to emerge if patients do not complete their treatment or if their drug supply is interrupted.

An additional problem is that while TB is the leading cause of death for people with HIV/AIDS, standard TB and HIV drugs cannot be combined easily (see Warning over drug for patients with TB and HIV).

"A package of powerful new drugs will mean we can treat more people better — including those co-infected with HIV and those suffering multi-drug resistant forms of the disease," says Maria Freire, chief executive officer and president of the TB Alliance.

Earlier this week (23 May) the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases announced it would lead a new public-private partnership to find new drugs to treat malaria.

It aims to develop a single-dose treatment against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest form of malaria, and a multi-drug cure for Plasmodium vivax, the most frequent and widely distributed cause of malaria.

The alliance involves the Wellcome Trust, the Singapore Economic Development Board and the Medicines for Malaria Venture, which together are providing US$20 million in funding.