We spoke with Bruce Carter, outgoing Chair of the TB Alliance Board of Directors, about his seventeen years serving as a member of the Board and his views on the progress TB Alliance has made in the areas of Discovery, Development and Delivery of improved TB therapeutics, as well as the Board’s continued role in defining the strategic direction and ensuring the success of the organization.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
After serving on TB Alliance’s Board of Directors for a total of seventeen years over two periods, including ten as Board Chair, what are some of the accomplishments you are proud to have been a part of?
TB Alliance has really changed the way people with tuberculosis are treated, whether it’s children with drug sensitive TB or adults with drug-resistant TB. As a small organization, it’s remarkable that we’ve been able to bring a product, and a regimen, to the FDA and other global regulatory authorities. Getting FDA approval was a huge breakthrough because it meant getting this treatment to people in a matter of years rather than the decades it might have taken with a more traditional approach.
The product developed for DR-TB won the Prix Galien Award—that is, the best pharmaceutical product from that year, better than any other innovation developed by leading pharmaceutical companies—it’s quite a remarkable achievement.
Where do you see TB Alliance at this stage in its development, and what are the pressing current challenges?
Clearly our expertise in the first 15 years of existence was in research and then in development, and now our challenge is how are we going to get these drugs into the hands of patients who need them. We’ve had good success with pediatric first-line medicines, which have already reached well over a million children with TB. The only way to build on this with new treatments is through strong partnerships. We must keep adapting and learning, engaging with communities, and continuing to build new relationships so that can these drugs to people who need them at an affordable price.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work of TB Alliance and the field of R&D in recent years?
I was absolutely amazed at how this small organization has managed to continue its critical work in the midst of a new pandemic. I saw many other organizations drastically set back because of COVID-19, but that didn’t happen with TB Alliance to the same extent. The organization kept one step ahead of the pandemic, thanks to partner labs and other organizations around the world, we really did not lose much progress in our research programs and regulatory agenda – including EMA authorization of our six-month DR-TB treatment, initiation of operational research around the world, and closely collaborating with WHO as part of their treatment guideline development process.
When it comes to TB, there’s a global shortage of money because many people don’t see TB as a global problem. They may think “well, there’s no TB in this country, so we’re fine,” but that’s not exactly true. TB kills around 1.6 million people a year.
We saw with COVID how the world came together to advance diagnostics, cures, and vaccines – that could also be the case for TB or any other disease if people recognized the importance and dedicated adequate and appropriate resources to it.
After 17 total years with the organization, what had initially piqued your interest in joining the TB Alliance Board of Directors?
Well, my mother had three sisters when she was 14 and had no sisters by the time she was 15. They had all died of TB. Later, my brother’s wife also got TB. My family was quite affected by tuberculosis. I thought TB is where I should focus my attention.
I’ve ended up both impressed by TB Alliance and proud to be a part of it. We’ve gathered so much force and the progress has been dramatic in the 20 plus years of TB Alliance. I’m looking forward to following the journey and seeing what else can be accomplished.