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Tuberculosis Group Tries to Spur Research for New Antibiotics

November 15, 2001

Trying to entice major drug makers into developing new TB drugs, the new Global Alliance for TB Drug Development is today releasing a study estimating that the market for TB medications will be worth $700 million a year by 2010. The study assumes that half of that, however, would go for low-profit generics already in use.

The study offers insight into one of the grimmest aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Although they spend fortunes hunting for cures for baldness, obesity and impotence, drug makers shy away from TB and other diseases. No new TB drug has been patented in 30 years, and one reason is that most TB patients are destitute and live in poor countries. Companies develop antibiotics in hopes of earning billions from patients in rich countries -- but if a drug is found effective against TB, pressure may grow for them to sell it cheaply in poor countries. However, new TB outbreaks, the emergence of drug-resistant strains, and the anthrax attacks' demand for powerful antibiotics have all increased industry interest in new antibiotics, said Gwynne Oosterbaan of the alliance.

A typical TB patient takes a cocktail of three or four drugs for six months. If a company can invent a drug that cures TB in two months, it would probably make $325 million a year with it, the alliance estimated. Ideally, said Dr. Giorgio Roscigno, a former drug executive who led the study, the alliance will invest money in promising new antibiotics in return for some ownership. Once the drug passes through the testing process -- which can cost $40 million or more and is generally underwritten by the pharmaceutical giants -- the alliance will be able to insist that the drug be sold cheaply in poor countries while the manufacturer reaps profits in rich ones.

The alliance was created a year ago with $150 million from the Rockefeller and Gates foundations, the Wellcome Trust and other charities and governments to help overcome manufacturers' reluctance to conduct TB research.

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Adapted from:
New York Times
11.15.01; Donald G. McNeil, Jr.



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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