25 September 2018 | Statement

Unitaid extends key research grant as part of a strong counterattack on tuberculosis

Image: Nicholas Peart

New York – Unitaid is intensifying its commitment to fighting tuberculosis with a US$ 21 million investment in extending endTB, a global research project that is improving treatment regimens for patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

Led by Partners In Health, in partnership with Médecins sans Frontières and Interactive Research & Development, endTB has been piloting two new medicines, bedaquiline and delamanid, in 17 countries, that aim to make treatment for MDR-TB shorter, simpler, more effective, and with fewer side effects.

The ultimate goal of the endTB project is to provide countries and funding agencies, such as the Global Fund, with effective drugs that can be introduced on a massive scale to tackle MDR-TB, a virulent form of TB.

“Unitaid’s visionary investment is a brilliant and strategic approach to ‘double down’ on this critical work,” said Gary Gottlieb, CEO of Partners In Health. “An expanded and extended endTB will further pave the way to ending the scourge of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and improving and saving the lives of countless deserving people.”

The endTB project’s original term was 2015-2019 and its budget US$ 60 million, but with the extension it will run through the end of 2022, with Unitaid support of up to US$ 81 million.

Unitaid’s growing, varied slate of TB investments makes it, as of 2018, the world’s largest multilateral actor to invest in TB research and development. Our active TB portfolio includes grants worth US$ 215 million that are designed to speed access to innovative solutions for latent, drug-resistant and childhood TB. And the TB grant portfolio is expected to reach US$ 300 million by 2020.

Long-used treatments for MDR-TB can take up to two years, succeed in only about half the cases, and can cause major side effects such as hearing loss and psychosis.

People with MDR-TB have a form of the illness that does not respond to multiple first-line TB drugs. With endTB’s extension, a new clinical trial will be added to develop a treatment regimen for patients with fluoroquinolone-resistant MDR-TB.

“We are proud to be deepening our commitment to endTB, a highly ambitious project with the potential to have a huge impact on the trajectory of drug-resistant forms of TB,” said Unitaid’s Executive Director, Lelio Marmora.

EndTB’s innovative treatment regimens have the potential to bring about significant public health gains. According to project estimates, the new treatments could cure 119,000 more patients, save 56,000 more lives and avert 239,000 drug-resistant infections from 2019 to 2027.

The endTB extension is among recent initiatives Unitaid has undertaken to fight back against TB, the world’s leading infectious killer. More than half a million people get MDR-TB every year and 200,000 die of it.

Further investments are in development: new Unitaid projects will fight TB and its drug-resistant strains through innovative diagnostics, wider use of the best new drugs for adults and children, and new technologies to support people in taking their medicines.

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