Tackling TB with new innovations and improved treatments
Across the globe, people often associate tuberculosis (TB) with rows of beds in archaic sanitoriums. But this is not a disease of the past, it remains one of the world’s most deadly public health challenges and one our industry is determined to remedy.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, TB is once again the world’s leading cause of death due to an infectious disease, causing 1.6 million deaths every year.
About 2 billion people are infected with the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, that’s 1 in 4 people on the planet. Of these, 5-10% will develop active TB – the transmissible form which makes people really sick.
At greatest risk of infection are the poorest and most vulnerable people in low- and middle-income countries, those displaced by conflict, or people living with HIV – which can make individuals up to 30 times more likely to fall ill with the active disease.
TB is a curable and preventable disease, so why does it continue to infect more people?
- Firstly, latent, symptomless versions of TB are widespread and difficult to diagnose. Every person who goes undiagnosed can infect up to 10 people a year.
- Secondly, treatments have historically been long and difficult to complete with severe side effects.
- Finally, drug-resistant strains of the disease are on the rise. Drug-resistant TB is responsible for approximately one-third of all antimicrobial resistance (AMR)-related deaths.
To tackle the epidemic of TB, our industry is striving to find better diagnostic methods, improve the existing treatment options, and advance new treatments to fight drug-resistant forms of the disease, as well as develop more effective vaccines to prevent TB.
Accelerating research and innovation to end TB
Ever since the first cure for tuberculosis was discovered in the 1940s, the industry has worked relentlessly to improve the standard of care for people with TB. Today, we are committed to overcoming barriers to access, and are making progress in developing treatments that are effective against drug-resistant strains of the disease.
If we want to end this epidemic, stop the spread and save lives, we need innovation from the lab to the last mile.
Industry scientists are constantly striving to find new ways to shorten and simplify medication regimens and develop fixed-dose combinations. This can be especially beneficial for helping people stay on treatment, something that can be challenging for those who live in remote communities without access to healthcare facilities or in countries with strained health resources. By building on the existing science, we’ve already cut treatment time from two years to six months.
New, better tolerated treatment options can also help improve adherence for those who are more vulnerable to TB, including those with HIV, as they often have fewer side effects.
Although a TB vaccine has existed since the 1920s, it has variable efficacy, especially in adults and particularly in high-burden regions. The industry is also working on more effective vaccines to help prevent TB altogether, which could also have the dual benefit of helping to slow down the spread of drug-resistant forms of TB.
Advances in molecular diagnostics, digital health, artificial intelligence, data collection and health promotion will also play a critical role in reaching the “missing millions” of people with TB who go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, each year.
How can we champion innovation?
Innovations in TB treatments offer hope to millions of people across the globe. But we need to work together to create an environment where these ambitious advances can thrive.
To achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target of ending TB globally by 2030, we need an environment that encourages and supports innovation. Because drug and vaccine development is long, complex, and risky, greater public and private investment in TB research and development and manufacturing are critical.
We also need improved end-to-end planning on the policy, regulatory, and financing pathways required for new combination therapies and vaccines. Finally, more public-private partnerships are needed to establish innovative approaches to expand access at the last mile and close the gap between diagnosis and treatment.
These conditions are critical to the world’s success in beating TB and will help our industry develop improved treatments, better diagnostics, and more effective vaccines to help slow the spread of TB, save lives, and help us achieve our goal of building a TB-free future.