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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

March 9, 2020 by Ansley Kahn

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The new all-oral drug combination of bedaquiline, pretomanid, and linezolid cures 90 percent of people with deadly drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) if given for six months, according to clinical trial results reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).Typically, this high of a success rate is only seen when TB responds to conventional therapy. When TB is resistant, the success rate falls to well below 50 percent and averages just 14 percent in South Africa, where the trial was conducted by TB Alliance. Current therapy for drug-resistant TB requires taking up to seven drugs, which cause many side effects, for at least 18 months. The new regimen takes just six months, has fewer side effects, and is less costly. TB kills an estimated 1.5 million people annually and of the 10 million new cases each year, roughly 500,000 are drug resistant.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have paid for 15,000 drug molecules to be shipped to the Rega Institute for Medical Research, outside of Brussels, to be tested as a potential cure to the novel coronavirus. The samples are all active ingredients in current antiviral treatments which will be rapidly screened to determine whether they have an inhibiting effect on a sample from the first Belgian patient to be diagnosed. They expect to complete the screening in a week or two. The Gates Foundation has said it will provide up to US$100 million to improve detection, isolation, and treatment efforts in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Though there are currently no proven treatments for coronavirus, a few drug trials are already underway. As of last Wednesday, more than 93,000 people had been infected in more than 80 countries and the global death toll was 3,190.

Results from two phase 3 clinical trials reported in the NEJM suggest that a monthly shot of the antiretroviral (ART) drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine work just as well as daily pills to suppress the viral load of HIV in the bloodstream. ART therapy can effectively halt the replication of the virus and nearly eliminate it from the bloodstream, prolonging life expectancy. If approved by regulators, this long-acting combination therapy could be a more convenient treatment for people living with HIV than the conventional treatment regimen of two or more pills per day, which experts say can pose adherence challenges for many. There is currently no cure for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

About the author

Ansley KahnGHTC

Ansley Kahn is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.