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Combating the TB Pandemic Amid a New Threat

As TB Alliance acknowledges its 20th year, we remain committed to advancing new cures and meeting the aspirations of those who gathered in Cape Town to demand a better future for those who suffer from TB. Read from our 20 Stories for 20 Years series below:

The success of TB Alliance’s mission depends in part on its institutional agility and extensive, global network of partners. That was made abundantly clear in 2020, as COVID-19 raged, disrupting medical research and patient care throughout the world. In the face of this new pandemic, TB Alliance was able to navigate these challenges by working with its partners to avoid significant disruptions to our research programs and clinical trials, including monitoring and provision of care to trial participants.

This meant relocating preclinical stage work, sometimes across continents, as well as adapting clinical trial protocols to suit rapidly changing conditions and safety requirements. To cite an example: in the case of TB Alliance’s RNA Polymerase inhibitors program, Centers of Excellence for various stages of the work include Texas A&M University (Texas), Schrodinger Pharmaceuticals (New York). Wuxi AppTech (Wuhan, Shanghai and other locations in China), University of Chicago (Illinois), CepterBio (New Jersey), BioDuro (Beijing, and Shanghai, China), and the Beijing Thoracic Tumor and Tuberculosis Research Institute (Beijing).

At the beginning of 2020, as the pandemic began to disrupt research operations at WuXi Wuhan, TB Alliance immediately shifted their assigned work to other, operational WuXi labs across China. This was the beginning of a nearly year-long exercise in reassigning research activities to partners around the world to ensure that our research programs remained active and on schedule.

COVID-19 had a significant impact on TB Alliance’s US-based partners as well, but not simultaneously, and not in the same ways. Through the first quarter of 2020, TB Alliance was able to reassign research activities to multiple US locations where research centers were still safely operating. In the case of the RNA Polymerase inhibitor program, work originally slated to be performed in New Jersey was shifted to Texas and work planned for Chicago was performed in Beijing. Compounds crossed land and sea multiple times in the span of months. As a result, the project team estimates that only a handful of weeks of progress were lost over the course of 2020 – a minor setback, but a significant achievement in light of such a challenging and rapidly shifting environment. 

Given that different parts of the world experienced the pandemic differently and on different timelines, there was always some place, somewhere where work could be done. Operational windows were constantly opening and closing, but we had the institutional relationships and flexible operating model that allowed us to take advantage of them. Most major pharmaceutical research and development organizations weren’t necessarily equipped to do so.”

– Chris Cooper, Senior Director, Chemistry, TB Alliance

On the clinical side, TB Alliance advanced multiple clinical trials taking place in several countries in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Processes and procedures for patient-monitoring were modified to accommodate restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure patient safety. Telehealth technology enabled some forms of monitoring that were traditionally done through in-person visits to instead be conducted remotely. Avoiding interruption of this research was a major achievement; analysis across the pharmaceutical development industry often cited significant delays and disruptions in clinical trials.

Years of building global capacity for research and development and developing centers of excellence familiar with various types and phases of research enabled this complex reshuffling of research and development over 2020. It enabled TB Alliance to continue fighting one of humanity’s eldest pandemics while navigating its newest threat.