Fighting TB: How One Collaboration Is Tackling A Deadly Disease In The Developing World
By Jodi Helmer
Did you know that while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, there is another more silent infectious disease crisis, one that has persisted for decades?
Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.
Each year, 10 million people are diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB), one of the world’s deadliest bacterial diseases. Multidrug-resistant cases have risen 10% in the past year alone. Some 1.4 million people died from TB in 2019, making it the leading global cause of death from a single infectious agent.
All of this may surprise people living in developed countries, where TB is now rare. But in countries like India, China, Pakistan, South Africa, Philippines, Nigeria and Bangladesh—which have among the highest rates of TB in the world—malnutrition, overcrowding and poor health infrastructure, among other factors, have allowed the disease to ravage populations.
Is a solution within reach? The Project to Accelerate New Treatments for TB (PAN-TB)—a consortium of philanthropic, non-profit and private sector organizations with a joint mission of ending the disease—is determined to find one and is already making headway. PAN-TB consists of the collaboration’s founding member organizations, including Evotec, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., based in Japan, the TB Alliance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Here’s a look at how the group is tackling the TB crisis.
Cooperation Is Born
In 2015, the United Nations and World Health Organization committed to fighting the global TB epidemic. To date, their efforts have included increasing funding for prevention and treatment, resulting in a 9% reduction in global incidents in the 2015-2019 period. But these efforts alone are not enough.
“The disease can survive for a long time in a dormant state, and in that state it’s not susceptible to treatment to eradicate it, so that makes it complex,” explains Dr. Charlotte Jones-Burton, Vice President, Clinical Development Therapeutic Head, Nephrology at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Development & Commercialization, Inc., U.S. affiliate of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., a global healthcare company, of the challenges involved in TB treatment.
That’s part of why Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., which specializes in the development and commercialization of innovative pharmaceutical products, became a founding member of PAN-TB last year.
This collective brings together leading nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies committed to sharing resources and expertise with the aim of discovering novel and transformative treatment regimens for TB. Collaboration has always been at the heart of Otsuka’s efforts, driven by the values of humility and selflessness in its work to create groundbreaking health care solutions.
A Long History Of TB Research
PAN-TB is the first initiative of its kind, but it builds on research that Otsuka scientists have been doing for decades.
Even as other pharmaceutical companies scale back TB research, Otsuka continued to innovate in the field, in line with one of its key tenets as an organization: the importance of perseverance and endurance. Recognizing TB as a tenacious pathogen, Otsuka made TB treatment a research priority and developed a new class of drugs to fight the disease.
Recent efforts have culminated in the development of an investigational compound to treat TB that is currently in Phase 2 clinical trials in the US.
Known as Delamanid (Deltyba®) where approved outside the US, it acts as a mycobacterial cell wall synthesis inhibitor, corrupting the integrity of an infected cell and killing it. The newer drug takes a different approach than earlier treatments, which focused on preventing the TB bacteria from multiplying.
Dr. Jones-Burton calls this compound a novel way of treating TB. “If we minimize the time that a patient needs to take medication, we can maximize the effect towards eradicating the other bacteria.”
The Virtues Of Healthcare Collaboration
TB has also been identified as an area of interest by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who reached out to Otsuka in 2018 about joining the PAN-TB collaboration. The foundation allocated funding specifically to support the creation of treatment regimens that meet with little or no resistance—an important factor given that up to 18% of those diagnosed with TB suffer from a multidrug-resistant strain.
“Traditionally, we use our own resources to drive innovation. What makes the PAN-TB collaboration so attractive is that it takes the absolute opposite approach,” Dr. Jones-Burton says. “It's about who could help us drive this forward with funding, scientific knowledge and the ability to reach advocates, patients and healthcare professionals” in order to help truly eradicate the disease.
Dr. Jones-Burton compares the PAN-TB collaboration to the process that proved successful in the creation and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines. Governments invested in vaccine development; pharmaceutical companies pooled resources; and healthcare systems facilitated rapid clinical trial deployment and hosted vaccine clinics. Such cooperative models, he hopes, could be crucial in addressing future healthcare challenges.
“If we want to find a solution to address challenges in healthcare, there is not a single entity that can do it alone,” Dr. Jones-Burton says. “It’s something that we must do together.”
Jodi Helmer writes about health for Forbes and other publications.