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Adding the antibiotic moxifloxacin to the standard combination of drugs currently used to treat tuberculosis (TB) could reduce the time needed to cure patients, researchers say.

The results of the study were presented last week (18 September) at the 47th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Chicago, United States.

Researchers compared the efficiency of using the moxifloxacin and ethambutol antibiotics in 170 TB patients in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

They found that, in the first eight weeks of treatment, 85 per cent of patients taking moxifloxacin were clear of active infections in their lungs, compared with 68 per cent of those taking the combination with ethambutol. 

"Based on what we know, if you get that big a difference at two months, you should be able to shorten the duration of treatment down to four [months]," said Richard Chaisson, study leader and director of the US-based Johns Hopkins' Center for Tuberculosis Research, at the conference.

Current treatment of TB requires patients to take four drugs for eight weeks and then two drugs for four months.

"This is the most compelling evidence in nearly 25 years that a novel antibiotic drug combination works better than the current gold standard," he added.

Marcus Conde, principal investigator at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and one of the researchers, told SciDev.Net, "Beyond the obvious value of healing patients more quickly, a shorter treatment time could also cut down on transmission of the disease to others."

He added that shorter treatment would also ease pressure on healthcare workers.

The researchers also believe it will improve patients' adherence to the treatment regime, therefore reducing the occurrence of drug resistance due to non-compliance.

And replacing ethambutol with moxifloxacin in the treatment combination could make the treatment "far less costly, allowing TB programmes to expand their coverage", the researchers said in a press release.

Moxifloxacin currently costs US$10 per day for short-term use, but the researchers state in the press release that the drug's manufacturer, Bayer Healthcare AG, has "promised to make the drug available at affordable prices in poor countries should it gain approval for use in TB treatment".

Moxifloxacin has been approved in more than 100 countries to treat pneumonia, but is not currently approved as a treatment for TB.

The study's findings will be submitted to a peer reviewed journal in the next few months.

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