Worldwide Drive to Beat Rising Number of TB Cases

October 9, 2000

SCIENTISTS, governments and charitable groups around the world have linked up to tackle one of the deadliest infectious diseases - tuberculosis - which is making a comeback after decades in decline.

A global alliance of private firms and public organisations will launch a research programme today to develop a new TB drug by 2010, with a budget of $150m (pounds 100m) in its first five years. No pharmaceutical company would attempt this because the costs could never be recouped from sales.

TB kills more than two million people a year around the world, more than Aids or malaria. Most cases are in poorer countries that cannot afford drugs, but new drug-resistant strains of the disease are on the rise in the West. Aids sufferers are vulnerable owing to their weak immune systems. No new TB drug has been developed for 30 years. The side-effects and length of treatments - six to nine months - mean patients often stop before they are clear, allowing drug resistance to develop.

In Britain there are 6,500 TB cases a year, and one in 20 shows signs of drug resistance. In London a new case of multi-drug resistant TB is found each week; cases cost pounds 50,000 to pounds 100,000 each to treat.

The World Health Organisation, which is backing the alliance launched in Bangkok today, declared TB a global emergency in 1993. Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director general, said: "Tuberculosis is not only a cause of misery and death, it is a major impediment to social and economic development."

The target of the alliance is to have TB drugs available by 2010 that will shorten treatment to three months, tackle latent and multi- drug resistant TB and be affordable to all.