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Major initiative targets more drugs for tuberculosis

10 March 2011

Every year 1.8 million people die of tuberculosis, mainly in countries where health care is insufficiently developed. Now the EU has made a unique major commitment in which a large number of universities in Europe, including Uppsala University, along with AstraZeneca and other smaller companies, are joining forces to work toward the same goal: new drugs to help combat the disease.

This is a serious attempt to develop medicines for tuberculosis, one of the world’s most widespread and severe diseases. What makes the situation more and more alarming is its increasing resistance to drugs. With more and more resistant strains of the tubercle bacterium, our capacity to treat the disease is declining at a rapid pace. The medicines used today were developed nearly 50 years ago and need to be taken for 6–9 months for the most readily treated bacterium and up to 24 months for more difficult forms. They also involve undesirable side effects. Prolonged use of medicine often entails that the medicine is not used strictly according to instructions, which can lead to failed treatment and an increased risk that the bacterium will develop resistance. 

The research team at Uppsala has already been working closely with AstraZeneca within the framework of the Rapid Centre, which has been funded for eight years by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research.

-    “This EU initiative enables us to deepen our collaboration for a further five years. We view this type of integrated collaboration between the academy and the pharmaceutical industry as the only realistic way to combat diseases that primarily affect people in poor countries where the commercial potential for drug development is so much lower,” says Sherry Mowbray, who is scientist in charge of the Uppsala part of the study.

Some 20 research teams at different universities in 13 countries will be working with AstraZeneca to achieve the goal. A holistic approach is being used, including screening strategies, medical chemistry, functional genomics, and structural biology working in concert. By mounting a broad attack, it is hoped that these scientists will discover and evaluate several new drug candidates, identify molecules, and enhance our knowledge of the mechanism behind the infection process.

The goal is to evaluate at least five new target molecules and discover at least one new family of drugs. These can then be passed on to companies for further development.

The consortium is led from École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. Funding, amounting to EUR 11.9 million for the years 2011-2015, is from the EU’s Seventh Framework Program.

For more information, please contact Sherry Mowbray, tel: +46 (0)18-471 49 90, or Alwyn Jones, tel: +46 (0)18-471 49 90,