2022-08-10| Trials & Approvals

New Long-acting Formulation could be Key in Curing TB

by Max Heirich
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A study published on August 8 in Nature Communications details how a new formulation might treat tuberculosis. Created by scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Case West University, and Duke University, the singular, long-acting formulation treats tuberculosis over a long period of time. This treatment comes after deaths from the disease spiked beyond 1.5 million in 2020.

Related Article: Update on Tuberculosis containment using vaccine – Taming the disease

TB and its Current Treatments

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection affecting a patient’s lungs, caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the disease was the cause of one out of seven deaths in the United States alone. 

The disease raged through the population until Selman Waksman discovered an antibiotic compound known as streptomycin. Streptomycin interrupts the function of bacteria cells’ ribosomes, resulting in cell death. Upon administering this antibiotic to a TB patient in 1949, Waksman found that the compound cured their infection. 

Today, a combination of antibiotics treats patients with TB for six to twelve months. These treatments include isoniazid, pyrazinamide, ethambutol, and rifampin. However, researchers have honed in on a new treatment for TB during the recent spike of TB amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Return of TB during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the 2020 pandemic, the global number of deaths attributed to TB surpassed 1.5 million. This marks the first occurrence of this number in over a decade. To combat this rise, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Case West University, and Duke University collaborated to develop a new formulation to treat TB.

Rifabutin is a drug administered in a single shot rather than other treatments requiring several injections over an extended period. Known as long-acting formulations, these treatments release medications over a period of days, weeks, or months. Published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers found in their preclinical experiments that a single injection of rifabutin lasts for four months at the least. In addition to clearing Mtb infections from the patient’s lungs, the researchers also observed that drug plasma delivery prevented infection in the first place.

An author of the study, Martina Kovarova, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at UNC, said, “Affordable long-acting formulations with generic anti-TB drugs would help ease the burden of this disease on low-income communities around the world where better access to treatment is most needed.

Long-acting formulation delivery is already FDA-approved for treating certain types of cancer, schizophrenia, and opioid dependency. One example of these treatments is Bristol Myers Squibb’s ABILIFY (aripiprazole), a long-acting medication treating schizophrenia. 

The research team will continue testing rifabutin in preclinical trial experiments. Afterward, they expect to begin administration to human subjects in Phase I clinical trials.

Related Article: Inhaling Immunity: UNC Research on Inhalable COVID Vaccines

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