In South Africa, we have a high rate of Tuberculosis (TB) infection among the population. Although, much is and has been done to bring down those numbers, it still remains a concern. However, a new drug combination, known as PaMZ, was found to be effective in killing 99% of patients’ TB bacteria within two weeks, whioch has raised the hopes of many in the country.
But the trial’s principal investigator, Stellenbosch University’s Dr Andreas Diacon, said he was optimistic, yet cautious. “We only tested the drug for two weeks and that is not really long enough for any TB treatment to work,” he said.
The trial involved 85 patients, 10 of whom were placed on the standard drug regimen for TB. The other 75 patients received different combinations of TB drugs. Fifteen of them were on the PaMZ combination. Diacon said that while the result was “very promising” it still had to be verified through long trials. This would enable the researchers to find out whether the drug is effective over the long term and rule out the possibility that patients might have a relapse. A follow-up trial, involving 230 patients who will take the drug for a period of eight weeks, is already underway. If it is successful, the drug will move into a longer, third phase trial involving thousands of participants on three continents.
Diacon said the new approach of testing new drugs in combination with others, rather than in isolation, could make it possible produce a new drug regimen within a few years. “From a doctor’s perspective, that’s amazing progress. Before, I was anticipating it could take decades for a new TB drug regimen but now it looks like it will take years,” he said.
Developing countries in particular are desperately in need of new treatments for TB. Multidrug-resistant TBis on the rise. In 2010, there were 7 386 recorded cases in South Africa.
But if the PaMZ combination proves successful, it could allow doctors to treat patients with ordinary and drug-resistant TB using the same treatment regime and over the same, relatively short time period of just six months. This could increase patients’ adherence to their treatment regime and at the same time lower the cost of treating TB patients.