'Virtual' Research Group to Focus on TB Cure

March 26, 2001

A "virtual" research organ-isation combining the resources of charitable foundations, academia and the pharmaceuticals industry is to begin funding projects aimed at discovering desperately needed new drugs for tuberculosis.

The Global Alliance on Tuberculosis Drug Development was founded last October as a public-private partnership to counteract what is acknowledged to be a market failure in which industry largely ignores diseases that affect only the developing world. It plans to launch the project within a few months.

With initial funding of about Dollars 45m (Pounds 31m) from the Gates and Rockefeller foundations and others, the alliance describes itself as a "lean, virtual R&D organisation that outsources R&D projects to its partners or to industry". All contracts it signs contain clauses to ensure that any drugs developed are affordable in the developing world. Other such alliances have been formed, including one to develop anti-malarials.

Drugs have long been available for tuberculosis, which kills an estimated 2m people a year, but these are administered as part of a complex six-month regimen, known by the acronym Dots. Only 23 per cent of those affected with TB finish treatment courses, according to the alliance. Without drugs, 70 per cent of patients die, while a TB sufferer can infect 10-15 people a year.