From Guardian (UK) (March 3, 2011)
AstraZeneca has joined a consortium to fight tuberculosis around the world with French rival Sanofi-aventis, the University of Cambridge and other research organisations.
The More Medicines for Tuberculosis (MM4TB) consortium intends to develop new drugs for successful and shorter treatment for TB. The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), along with the universities of Pavia in Italy, and Uppsala in Sweden, are also among the groups involved. The consortium will be funded by a euros 16m (pounds 13.5m) EU grant and led by TB expert Professor Stewart Cole, of EPFL.
He told the Guardian: “This is one of the strongest consortiums ever put together. It is led by academia but with the drug discovery knowhow of big pharma and biotechs.”
Every year, 1.8 million people die from TB around the world. The drugs used to treat it are nearly 50 years old and must usually be taken for six to nine months, or up to two years for drug-resistant strains of the disease. This can prove too much for many patients and erratic treatment can lead to drug resistance and death. Cole said new drugs could reduce the treatment to a few months.
AstraZeneca is sharing its compounds and expertise. Research will be carried out at London hospitals and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, as well as in Russia, India and South Africa. The aim is to have 10 to 20 compounds in the pipeline to develop two or three successful TB drugs that will be given to the patient as a cocktail. A previous consortium came up with a promising product that is now being developed by Germany’s Alere. “We’re confident we can replicate that and come up with two candidates [drugs],” said Cole. It will take eight to 12 years to develop a medicine, test it and have it approved by regulators.
AstraZeneca said the current treatment for TB, directly observed short-course chemotherapy, was old, slow and inefficient by today’s standards. Multidrug-resistant strains have appeared during the past 15 years.
Meanwhile the Global Fund, a public-private partnership set up in 2002 to raise money to fight tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and malaria, is preparing to launch an exchange-traded fund (ETF) with Deutsche Bank in London next Tuesday. The fund invests in shares of 50 companies that support the Global Fund, including HSBC, ExxonMobil, Vodafone, BHP Billiton, Apple, Novartis, Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Toyota and Siemens. About 2% of the 2.5% annual fee charged by the ETF will go directly to the Global Fund’s fight against HIV, TB and malaria.
The ETF has already been launched in Germany and could provide the Global Fund, which is mainly funded by governments, with a steady income stream. Although it is small at present ($5m), the aim is to get it up to $300m. The Global Fund has provided $21.7bn for more than 600 programmes fighting Aids, TB and malaria in 150 countries.