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An international effort to bring a new tuberculosis (TB) drug to the market by 2010 is unlikely to succeed, according to a study published in Science this week.

The study shows there is a need to significantly increase investment in TB research and make those funded accountable for meeting their targets much as private companies are, says lead researcher Kevin Schulman of Duke University, United States.

Schulman and colleagues used computer models to assess whether the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development's plan to market a new drug by 2010 was achievable.

The alliance, a public-private partnership, is currently assessing 11 compounds as possible TB drugs. Most are in the early stages of testing.

Schulman's team says there is less than a five per cent chance that the alliance will meet its target with this portfolio of drug candidates.

They say the only way to succeed would be to add at least ten compounds that are in the late stages of clinical testing, or at least 20 compounds in early development. The first scenario is "infinitesimally" unlikely, they say.

Schulman's team adds that the alliance is likely to face a funding shortfall of at least US$100 million in its attempt to develop its first new drug.

They point out that moving clinical trials from the United States to an emerging economy could save tens of millions of dollars.

Maria Freire, president and chief executive officer of the alliance says the 2010 deadline was set as "an important motivator" when the alliance formed in 2000.

She adds that the target was based on early estimates but that, in reality, there have not been enough compounds with anti-TB activity to work with.

The alliance acknowledges that funding is a problem for drug developers, but suggests it would be announcing "good news" on that front next week.

A spokesperson for the alliance told SciDev.Net that the organisation's primary goal was to shorten the time it takes to treat TB — whether with a new drug or by adding an existing drug to those used to treat the disease.

The current treatment takes at least six months and involves four drugs.

The alliance is working with drug company Bayer to see if the antibiotic moxifloxacin could be used to treat TB. They believe it could shorten treatment by 2-3 months.

Link to full article in Science

Reference: Science 311, 1246 (2006)