Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that claims around 1.4 million lives a year worldwide. An estimated one-third of the world’s population is infected . The disease is treatable with drugs; however, cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) are rising and new treatments are urgently needed.
Current therapies for TB are based on creating combinations of three to four drugs and cycling through ad-hoc regimens, which are largely ineffective against MDR-TB. The new collaboration will see Cellworks and AstraZeneca pull from a pool of existing anti-infective drugs and attempt to find an effective combination with better efficacy and lower toxicity than the treatment regimens provided today.
The traditional process of designing an ideal drug combination is lengthy and expensive because there are several thousand possible combinations and the search space is too large to be handled by conventional techniques.
Under the collaboration, Cellworks will use its proprietary predictive platform to model MDR-TB and rationally identify ‘synergistic combinations’ that might have the highest efficacy and lowest possible toxic burden of available combinations. AstraZeneca will validate the top ten most effective combinations identified by Cellworks, both in the laboratory and in animal models of the disease.
Dr Anand Anandkumar, managing director of Cellworks Group India, said: “Cellworks is honoured to take the lead on this unique drug development project, which has the potential to save thousands of lives globally.
“Its results may also have positive implications in other infectious disease areas where drug resistance is prevalent. We are proud to be working with scientists from AstraZeneca on such a socially valuable project, funded by one of the world’s leading science foundations.”
Dr Manos Perros, head of the AstraZeneca Infection Innovative Medicines Unit, said: “AstraZeneca is pleased to join this effort to speed the delivery of improved treatment combinations for TB patients worldwide.
“Our continued investment in infectious disease research has positioned us to collaborate with organisations like Cellworks who share our passion for medical innovation. We believe that new medicines and new combination therapies to treat TB will be delivered through a concerted effort from multiple partners rather than one company’s lab.”
Dr Richard Seabrook, head of Business Development at the Wellcome Trust, said: “Drug-resistant TB is both a major global healthcare threat and a scientific challenge. Tackling it requires new approaches to drug discovery, and we are delighted to be supporting this collaboration, which has a strong mix of innovation and drug development expertise.”
The collaboration is supported by the Wellcome Trust’s R&D for Affordable Healthcare in India scheme. Launched in 2010, the initiative aims to support translational research projects that will deliver safe and effective healthcare products for India – and potentially other markets – at affordable costs.
Image: A plain chest X-ray showing pulmonary TB. Credit: Wellcome Images.