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Researchers win funding to develop faster TB cure

Media Release 14 June, 2006

NZ researchers win global TB Alliance funding to develop faster cure for the disease

Researchers belonging to the national Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery (CMB), based at The University of Auckland, have been selected by the New York-based Global Alliance for TB Drug Development (TB Alliance) to work on a new generation of anti-tuberculosis drugs.

The two-year project, led by Professor Bill Denny and Associate-Professor Brian Palmer at the University’s Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, will seek to develop improved second generation analogues of the TB Alliance’s new drug PA-824 under a contract negotiated by Auckland UniServices Ltd, the University’s commercial arm.

This compound PA-824, which began human trials last year, is one of only a few radically new TB drugs in forty years. It is a “prodrug” that is activated by enzymes in the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium that causes TB.

Professor Denny says that laboratory trials have shown that PA-824 has activity against both active and persistent stages of the disease, and the potential to significantly reduce treatment times.

“Effective drug treatments for TB were developed 50 years ago but they must be taken for six to nine months to get rid of the disease completely. Many TB patients don’t complete the treatment and are not cured, and in fact promote the spread of drug-resistant strains. PA-824 is a very exciting new drug candidate which has the potential to be safely used in combination with HIV/AIDS treatments.”

The University of Auckland’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Tom Barnes, congratulated the CMB researchers on being one of only seven international research groups selected to drive development of a new pipeline of TB drugs.

“This success signifies the high international profile of the group, and in particular Professor Denny’s pre-eminence in the design of prodrugs – drugs that are activated selectively in the body,” he said.

This research complements structural biology work in the CMB, headed by Professor Ted Baker, the centre’s director. The centre is investigating key enzymes from the bacterium, including those that activate PA-824. Better understanding of target enzymes will provide the knowledge needed to develop further new types of TB drugs.

Professor Baker said TB remained one of the most life-threatening infectious diseases on the planet.

“While most of the loss of life occurs in the under-developed world, recent outbreaks in New York and the linkage of TB with HIV/AIDS makes it a global health priority. Identification of the key enzyme that activates PA-824 would be of enormous help to the international drug development project,” he said.

The TB Alliance, which receives funding from a number of sources, recently announced a US$104 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support its world-wide search for a faster and more effective cure for tuberculosis, which kills someone on average every 15 seconds.

The Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery (CMB) is one of seven National Centres of Research Excellence (CORES) established by the Government in 2002/03. It is a multi-disciplinary team of leading scientists who are driving new drug development and technologies in New Zealand to treat infectious diseases, diabetes, heart disease and cancer – all major killers.


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