As recently as 30 years ago, tuberculosis (TB) was believed to be under control. However, since the 1980s, the world has seen a resurgence of this potentially fatal disease, with around 9 million cases a year - predominantly in the developing world.
The TB challenge
The reasons for this resurgence are complicated. One cause is the lengthy and complicated course of antibiotics that is the current treatment for many infections. A typical course of treatment for this illness involves taking as many as four different medicines, for around six to nine months. About 20-30% of patients don’t finish their treatment.
This failure rate opens up new opportunities for deadlier, drug-resistant strains to develop, and this, added to the lack of new treatment options in recent years, is what has led to the surge of new cases of TB.
Our commitment to developing new treatments
At GSK, we’re committed to helping solve the TB challenge. We have an active pipeline of potential new medicines, which are being developed in our R&D unit in Tres Cantos, Spain – a site dedicated to developing treatments for diseases of the developing world. We’re also researching potential new vaccines for TB.
But we know we can’t succeed in tackling this disease alone. As with other major health challenges, such as dementia, to combat TB we must be more open to working together. This is one of the areas where we believe taking a more open-minded approach to sharing information and engaging in public-private partnerships will help address some of the key barriers to the development of a new generation of TB medicines.
To this end, in 2012, our scientists screened our entire library of more than 2 million compounds – the building blocks for future medicines – for any showing signs of activity against TB. The 200 compounds they identified – also known as hits – were made freely available online, for external scientists to carry out their own research on. To date, we’ve shared copies of these compounds with 30 research groups around the world, who are also working to tackle TB.
We’re also active members of several collaborations focused on developing new treatments for TB, including multi-drug resistant forms of the infection.
For example, we led the ORCHID alliance (Open Collaborative Model for Tuberculosis Lead Optimization) – a research partnership co-funded by the European Union and completed in 2015. The work of this alliance included repurposing existing medicines as potential TB treatments, using the 200 hits from our compound collection to identify starting points for future drug discovery programmes, and creating a portfolio of promising compounds.
In 2012, we also joined the TB Drug Accelerator programme – a groundbreaking partnership with a number of other pharmaceutical and public sector research institutions and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aiming to speed up the discovery of new medicines by collaborating on early stage research.
Another important initiative we’re key members of is “Predict TB” – a project created by the EU’s largest public-private partnership aiming to improve the drug development process, the Innovative Medicines Initiative. This group is one of the world’s only initiatives focused on tackling some of the very early-stage barriers to the discovery of new TB treatments.
We know, from great collaborative efforts in other challenging fields, that when the best scientific minds join forces, great strides can be taken to improve global health. We believe that TB is another area of research where if we show a united a front – opening up our labs, and sharing our resources, our data and our expertise – we’ll be better placed to tackle this disease head on.
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