Public-Private Sector Alliance Vows New TB Drug by End of Decade

October 9, 2000

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - An ambitious international public-private sector partnership was set up in Bangkok Tuesday to develop new drugs to treat tuberculosis, a disease that kills 5,000 people a day.

The Global Alliance for TB Drug Development was started at the International Conference on Health Research for Development, a major meeting to map strategies to ensure that advances in medicine benefit the poorer people of the world as well as the rich.

The alliance is aiming to deliver its first anti-TB drug by 2010. No new class of drugs to fight TB has been developed in the past 30 years, and existing medicines are losing their effectiveness as the TB bacillus develops resistance to them.

Funding will come from governments, non-governmental organizations, industry, foundations and multi and bilateral organizations which will be partners in the not-for-profit venture.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a grant of dlrs 25 million and the Rockefeller Foundation is expected to provide dlrs 15 million.

Total funding over the next five years is expected to exceed dlrs 150 million.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of the World Health Organization said that one-third of the world's population is infected with TB, with 8 million people a year developing active cases.

If better treatment is developed, she said at the news conference launching the alliance, it could save the lives of 50 million people over the next 20 years.

The WHO helped develop the current treatment for TB, Directly Observed Treatment Short Course - DOTS - in 1995. Its effectiveness is very high if properly administered, but that has proven difficult because it requires a six-to-nine month course.

The alliance has been gestating since February this year, when a meeting of health professionals in Cape Town, South Africa agreed that new approaches were needed, said Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Since then, participants have created both a scientific blueprint to guide drug development and a business plan to rationalize costs.

Such a concerted approach is needed because tuberculosis is a so-called "orphan disease" that has failed to attract much commercial research and development because it disproportionately affects the poor, limiting potential profits.

The alliance seeks to develop cost-effective drugs to simplify treatment or shorten its duration; improve treatment of latent infections; and be effective against multi-drug resistant TB, said Pablos-Mendez.

The alliance hopes to retain intellectual property rights over any drugs developed so that it can control pricing and marketing, but will be open to other arrangements, such as licensing, that allow it to meet its goal of providing affordable treatment, said Pablos-Mendez.