French drug maker Sanofi on Thursday announced a new three-year research collaboration agreement with the TB Alliance “to accelerate the discovery and development of novel compounds against tuberculosis,” RTTNews reports (9/20). “According to company material, the projects will explore a compound which researchers believe has potential to treat all forms of tuberculosis, investigate another class of natural derivatives that has shown ‘impressive’ activity against tuberculosis bacteria, and identify future candidates for development among chemical compounds in Sanofi’s collection,” the Center for Global Health Policy’s “Science Speaks” blog writes (Barton, 9/20). RTTNews notes, “Sanofi, which discovered rifampicin in the early 1960s, markets several anti-tuberculosis drugs” (9/20).
Global Health Funding Cuts Threatening Fight Against HIV, TB In Eastern Europe, Central Asia, NGO Report Says
The fight against HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is being threatened by cuts in global health funding, according to “a report [.pdf] by leading European non-governmental health organizations,” Reuters reports. In the report, “experts called on the European Union to step in to fill the gaps left by global donors to countries within and neighboring its borders,” the news service notes. According to Reuters, “[c]ountries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have some of the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemics,” and “Europe is also home to the world’s highest documented rates of drug-resistant TB” (Kelland, 9/18).
In this post in the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Global Health Policy” blog, Victoria Fan, a CGD research fellow, and Rachel Silverman, a research assistant for the global health team at the center, examine the future of UNITAID. “Perhaps due to its relative obscurity and late entry to a crowded global health field, UNITAID has proactively worked to differentiate itself through a focus on commodities, market shaping, novel funding sources, and innovation,” but, “as UNITAID celebrates its sixth birthday …, it stands at a potential crossroads,” they write. Fan and Silverman note that a five-year evaluation report on the future of UNITAID, commissioned by its Executive Board, is forthcoming, and they highlight a paper (.pdf) in which they “outline some contradictions and limitations of UNITAID’s current approach.” They write, “We hope that the imminent evaluation provides the impetus for UNITAID to turn inward and do something truly innovative: buck institutional inertia, change course as necessary, and reinvent itself as the solution to 2012’s biggest global health challenges” (9/17).
The board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria began a two-day meeting in Geneva on Thursday, “with one topic high on the agenda: a new funding model,” Devex’s “Development Newswire” reports. “The board will tackle aspects of a new funding model, which, according to Global Fund Director of Communications Seth Faison, ‘will change the way the Global Fund has made grants for 10 years,'” the news service writes, adding that the model, according to the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, “will see the Global Fund dropping its ’round’ grant-making process and replacing it with a ‘more flexible’ system.” In addition, “an ‘iterative dialogue process’ is also reportedly being explored,” Devex reports. “The proposed reforms seem good for the fund and its beneficiaries … [b]ut some have expressed their concerns on the funding model under consideration, specifically on the ‘historical disease application’ approach,” the news service writes (Ravelo, 9/13). According to an article on the Stop TB Partnership website, the new approach “would cap the proportion of funding available to tuberculosis (TB) projects at 16 percent,” and the proposal, “which is based on the proportion of grants awarded to TB in the past, met with strong objections from the community of people working on TB worldwide” (9/13).
After testing about 5,600 existing medications for their effectiveness against drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis (TB), researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that oxyphenbutazone, “an anti-inflammatory medication marketed in the 1950s as Tandearil and still used in veterinary medicine,” killed both latent and active TB bacteria in test-tube experiments, the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog reports. The medication is inexpensive, estimated to cost two cents per day in developing countries, according to the researchers, but it needs to go through “a series of clinical trials in which researchers would flesh out, in a human population, the medication’s safety and effectiveness record at various doses, in different patient populations and at different stages of the disease,” the blog writes.
The Wall Street Journal examines global efforts to stop the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) strains, stating, “Global health officials view the emergence of incurable cases of tuberculosis in India as a worrisome evolution in a trend they have been concerned and intensely frustrated about for years — the rise of drug resistant forms of tuberculosis around the world.” The newspaper notes that “last year, a Mumbai doctor reported several cases of TB resistant to the 12 most commonly used medicines,” and adds that “[a]s many as 4.8 percent of all tuberculosis cases are resistant to at least some available drugs, according to a recent study.” The newspaper discusses WHO guidelines to prevent the spread of TB and writes, “Lucica Ditiu, executive secretary of the Geneva-based Stop TB Partnership, an advocacy organization whose members include the World Health Organization, the CDC and others, says only localized action by the countries themselves will bring rates of drug-resistant TB down” (Shah/Anand/McKay, 9/7).
“[O]ver the past month, [tuberculosis (TB)] has captured high-profile attention from the Washington Post, the New York Times, TIME, NPR, [Agence France-Presse] and other major media, generating big headlines about the rising challenge we face in tackling one of humanity’s oldest and most resilient infectious diseases,” Jan Gheuens, interim director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s TB Program, writes in the foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog. “Why should we be concerned?” he asks. Gheuens says because the worldwide number of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases is growing; “it costs a lot of money to treat MDR-TB”; and “MDR-TB patients must go through two years of intensive treatment, including daily injections for the first six months.” He concludes, “What’s clear now, more than ever, is that making progress on TB will require a comprehensive approach that includes new and better approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention” (9/6).
In a 200th anniversary article for the New England Journal of Medicine, Salmaan Keshavjee of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Paul Farmer of Partners in Health “seek to elucidate the reasons for the anemic response to drug-resistant tuberculosis [TB] by examining the recent history of tuberculosis policy,” they write. The authors outline the history of TB drug development and how the disease became resistant to myriad drugs, and write that by the 1970s, “[t]uberculosis, whether caused by drug-susceptible or drug-resistant strains, rarely made even medical headlines, in part because its importance as a cause of death continued to decline in areas in which headlines are written. They continue, “In the United States, federal funding for tuberculosis research was cut; consequently, drug discovery, development of diagnostics, and vaccine research ground almost to a halt.”
The Washington Post examines how the “discovery of an almost untreatable form of tuberculosis [TB] in India has set off alarm bells around the world and helped spur a dramatic expansion of government efforts to battle the killer lung disease.” The newspaper writes, “For the past decade, a nationwide tuberculosis program involving millions of health workers and volunteers has made slow but significant progress in battling the disease in India and has been hailed as a public health success story,” but “any sense of complacency was dispelled in December when a doctor in Mumbai, Zarir Udwadia, discovered a strain of the disease that did not respond to any of the 12 frontline drugs.”
PlusNews examines the recently approved grants under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s Transitional Funding Mechanism (TFM), stating, “Last week, the Fund announced that 45 new grant applications, from countries such as Burundi, Malawi and Swaziland, have been approved under the TFM.” The news service notes, “Almost 25 percent of this combined total will go towards [tuberculosis (TB)], which represents a significant increase from the average 16 percent of funds allocated for TB since the Global Fund was created in 2002, according to a StopTB Partnership statement released in response” to the fund’s announcement. PlusNews notes, “Unlike regular grants, which can run for up to five years, those awarded under the TFM will be limited to two years, by which time the fund is expected to have launched its new funding model” (9/4).