21 May 2017 | Statements

Unitaid calls for innovative ways to accelerate access to better, shorter treatments for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis

Celso Amorim
Unitaid Chair, Celso Amorim (Image: Miki Orlovic/Unitaid)

Geneva, 21 May 2017 – Unitaid today launched a new Call for Proposals with the aim of attracting smart ideas to accelerate access to innovative treatment regimens and diagnostics for tackling multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

MDR-TB is a global health crisis that threatens the progress made in controlling TB. Detection and treatment gaps continue to plague the MDR-TB response. In 2015, 580,000 people were in need of MDR-TB treatment, and only half of the 125,000 patients enrolled on treatment were cured.

Existing treatments for MDR-TB are long, toxic, with often severe side effects, such as acute psychosis and deafness. “Given the lingering threat of MDR-TB, we need to develop shorter, simpler, less toxic treatments to effectively tackle it,” said Lelio Marmora, Unitaid Executive Director, speaking at a high-level Unitaid/Stop TB Partnership event on tackling antimicrobial resistance through innovation on the eve of the 70th World Health Assembly. “Unitaid is already investing US$ 60 million to speed up access to new drugs and test their efficacy in resource-limited settings.”

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a shorter regimen for MDR-TB treatment, lasting 9 to 12 months, with 4 to 6 months of injectable drugs. Patients not eligible for the shorter regimen continue to require 18 to 24 months of treatment, including 8 months of injectable drugs. Currently, the range of treatment options fragments the market for drug-resistant TB, reducing the commercial incentive for innovation and development.

There are currently over 20 registered clinical trials involving drug-resistant TB, most of them using new and/or repurposed drugs. “Better and shorter treatments are a must if one wants to tackle the MDR-TB crisis,  boost cure rates, and save lives. Unitaid has a critical role to play in taking innovations to scale and building the market for new regimens as well proven with its previous initiatives to expand access to new rapid MDR-TB tests,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme.

Under this Call, Unitaid aims to speed up the development and adoption of new treatment regimens for MDR-TB linked to simpler and faster TB testing, address market challenges and create the evidence needed to inform WHO guidelines.

“The current available medicines for MDR-TB are a challenge, in any way you look at it: terrifying side effects including irreversible hearing loss and depression, huge costs – financial and human suffering and death. Therefore, none of us should spare any efforts to ensure that we have the shortest, most efficient and affordable treatment and to make it accessible to all,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership.

The G20 Health Ministers underscored the need to “reinvigorate research and development in science and industry for antimicrobials” at their meeting in Berlin yesterday and highlighted the importance of investments made by Unitaid and other health partners in the fight against AMR.

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