December 4, 2009

Experts Seek More Funding For TB Tests And Vaccines

Experts are seeking more research funding to develop better diagnostic tests, vaccines and drugs for tuberculosis, which killed 1.8 million people worldwide last year, Reuters reported.

For doctors, confirming active tuberculosis, or TB, is a laborious procedure, while diseases like AIDS and malaria can be diagnosed in minutes by applying a drop of blood to a rapid test kit.

The TB test requires a patient to cough up sputum, which is then smeared on a slide, stained and examined under a microscope. And experts say the 100-year-old test misses up to 70 percent of otherwise positive cases.

In fact, many people delay follow-up testing because of cost in Africa, where TB is widely prevalent.

Dr. Jeremiah Chakaya of the Kenya Medical Research Institute told reporters at an international conference on lung health in Cancun, Mexico, that a lot of people die before a TB diagnosis is even made.

Many experts believe that a highly sensitive blood or urine test for TB could become a reality. But it is unlikely that such a test will reach the market before 2015 because of a lack of funding.

TB research investments rose by $56 million between 2006 and 2007 to a total of $474 million. However, investment rose by just $36 million to $510 million between 2007 and 2008.

Mark Harrington, executive director of the Treatment Action Group, an HIV and TB advocacy group said that with current investment rates, millions of people will continue to suffer and die unnecessarily of TB because the world stood by and refused to revitalize desperately needed TB research funding.

New data released by the World Health Organization's Stop TB Department on Thursday showed there were 9.4 million new cases of active TB in 2008, up from 9.27 million in 2007.

Disease experts say that one in every three people in the world is infected with TB, but only 10 percent will develop active TB, due mostly to a weakened immune system caused by diseases such as AIDS.

There have been no newly licensed drugs for TB in 40 years, with the exception of Pfizer Inc's rifabutin, a drug used to treat tuberculosis for those with drug-resistant HIV/AIDS.

Experts are now doubting the effectiveness of the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) TB vaccine, which has been around since 1919.

"Wouldn't one think that the largest killer of any single infection deserves better, newer tools?" said Lee Reichman of the Global Tuberculosis Institute at the New Jersey Medical School.

Two experimental drugs and nine vaccines for TB are currently under development but experts say these drugs would need funding to push into clinical trials.

Chakaya said the need for new TB tests, drugs and vaccines is obvious.


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