A new effort to tackle tuberculosis

Researchers at the University of Dundee are aiming to make a breakthrough against tuberculosis.

A $3million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the next three years will support the work of Professor Paul Wyatt’s team in the Drug Discovery Unit within the University of Dundee’s School of Life Sciences. They will identify new treatment options for TB, under the banner of the `LEADS4TB’ programme.

A major killer, it’s one of the most challenging diseases to treat and cure, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Current treatments for TB are old and inadequate, taking six months to cure patients. This long regimen is often hard for people to manage, leading to high rates of people not completing their treatment. This in turn leads to increased disease transmission, drug resistance and death.

Professor Wyatt, Head of the Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee, said, “We want to improve how we do drug discovery for TB, and identify new candidate drugs to treat the disease.

“Tuberculosis has proved a difficult disease to treat for many reasons. The body responds to infection by encasing TB in the lungs into lesions, which are difficult for drugs to penetrate. Inside the lesions, TB enters into a dormant state that is very hard to kill. Even once the drug reaches the bacteria, it has a complex cell wall which is difficult for medicines to pass through. Once inside the cell, TB can break down a drug rendering it useless.

“We have considerable expertise in tackling infectious diseases in Dundee at the Drug Discovery Unit. The Gates Foundation has recognised this with the considerable support they have given our work over many years. Building on our experience, our goal is to find new ways of killing TB that could lead to the development of new drugs. With this support we hope we can make a significant breakthrough.”

While effective diagnosis and treatment has saved millions of lives, TB remains the leading cause of death from infectious disease worldwide. In 2016, an estimated 10.4 million new cases were reported, and nearly 1.7 million people died from the disease.

Read more on the Gates Foundation’s work on tuberculosis.