File photo: Cindy Waxa

Cape Town - A novel tuberculosis drug regimen tested on patients at Tygerberg Hospital could dramatically shorten the duration of drug-resistant TB treatment,and cure the pandemic in record time, a new study suggests.

Early results of the Phase 2 clinical trial (NC1), which tested a multiple drug combination of existing TB drug pyrazinamide and two new antibiotics, PA-824 and moxifloxacin, showed that it could kill more than 99 percent of TB bacteria in just two weeks.

Published in the medical journal The Lancet this week, the study also found that the new regimen could not only alter the course of the TB pandemic, by shortening and simplifying treatment, but was also more effective than the current treatment regimen.

Researchers from global TB organisation TB Alliance and Stellenbosch University, who presented the results of the study at the International Aids Conference in Washington DC this week, now hope that the novel combination could harmonise the treatment of both drug-susceptible TB and some forms of drug-resistant TB in just four months.

Author and lead researcher Professor Andreas Diacon, from Stellenbosch University’s medical biochemistry department, said the new evidence provided hope for drug development, and would significantly benefit multidrug-resistant TB patients who currently took multiple types of drugs daily, including injections, for up to two years.

This long treatment regimen often meant patients defaulted on their medication, resulting in further resistance.

“Treating drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB with the same regimen can simplify the delivery of TB treatment worldwide.

“The results of this study give health-care providers on the front lines of the TB epidemic hope for better, faster tools needed to stop this disease,” Diacon said.

He explained that this study marked the first time that a combination of drugs was being tested simultaneously.

Traditionally, researchers tested one new drug at a time in a series of lengthy and expensive clinical trials, which could see new drug combinations take decades to develop.

Dr Mel Spigelman, chief executive and president of the TB Alliance, said the findings indicated that a new TB regimen could be shorter, simpler, safer and much cheaper and more effective than existing drug combinations.

“A new regimen like this holds tremendous potential for those with multidrug-resistant TB. We could be reducing their treatment by two years or even longer.

“The regimen also promises to be 90 percent cheaper than the current regimens,” he said.

The next trial, called New Combination 2 (NC-022), was launched earlier this year.

It will test the drug combination over two months for further clinical development.

Tests will be conducted in eight sites in SA, as well as in Tanzania and Brazil. - Cape Argus