Expert insight

Stepping up research and innovation to beat TB

23 March 2023
  • Greg Perry Assistant Director General

Many countries have NRAs that make sure medicinal products in their jurisdiction meet required quality, efficacy, and safety standards. They also guard against harmful substandard and falsified products.

In a year dedicated to progressing the fight against tuberculosis — with the upcoming United Nations High-level Political Meeting — the evidence casts a bleak outlook. But there’s hope.

In 2021, 10.6 million people were estimated to have contracted tuberculosis (TB), and 1.6 million people — including almost 200,000 people living with HIV — died, according to 2022 WHO Global TB Report. Due to the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, critical resources were redirected away from necessary, life-saving TB services. It was the first time in years, —especially since the political commitments that were collectively made to reduce TB deaths by 90% as part of the Sustainable Development Goals — that we saw progress lost in the fight to end TB.

Building on Covid-19 lessons learned

Apart from Covid-19, TB has been the record holder as the deadliest infectious disease. Multi-drug resistant TB has further complexified how we manage and treat it. At the same time, it is preventable and curable where there are innovations, systems and resources in place to support its diagnosis and treatment.

While progress feels slow and disjointed, it is not all doom and gloom. Global attention is turning toward how innovations and partnerships can help to tackle TB as they did for Covid-19.

At the start of this year, WHO announced the TB Accelerator to investigate how to apply lessons learned during Covid-19 to renew urgent investment in TB vaccine development. Already, there are 16 vaccine candidates in clinical trials to protect against TB.

While progress feels slow and disjointed, it is not all doom and gloom.


Improving TB diagnostics

The private sector has continued to be a dedicated investor in continued R&D across TB’s care continuum, including diagnostics. Companies, social enterprises and nonprofits are putting attention and resources toward TB diagnostic solutions that are quick to detect and identify TB, including drug-resistant TB, and committing to greater access so that everyone — especially vulnerable populations in high-burden countries — can benefit.

It’s clear we still need new tools to fight TB, including shorter, simpler and better-tolerated treatment regimens and TB preventive therapy, as much as vaccines and diagnostics, but there is hope.

During the pandemic, TB was a neglected disease, like many others. But, with the upcoming UN High-level Meeting on TB in New York, alongside new initiatives, innovations and partnerships to stimulate innovation for and access to care, TB is in the spotlight. Together, let’s step up our collective efforts to beat TB.

This blog was originally published on 23 March 2023 by Media Planet in The New Scientist and on Global Cause.