The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University $7.8 million for tuberculosis research, further supporting the laboratories already extensive research programs into the disease. The award is in partnership with the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) in Seattle and Mycos Research, a Loveland-based biotechnology company.
Tuberculosis causes two million deaths worldwide and is the second most deadly infectious disease in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Eight million new cases occur each year. In addition, drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis also have been identified by the NIH as pathogens that could be intentionally introduced into populations as a biological weapon.
The two awards provide $1.1 million to continue the laboratories’ efforts toward screening for effective drugs to combat the disease, and $6.7 million to develop new medications for drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.“The faculty, staff and students at the Mycobacteria Research Laboratories deserve all the credit for this grant, which will support their continuing efforts to find better treatments for tuberculosis,” said Dr. Lance Perryman, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Their dedication to the study of tuberculosis during the past 20 years has been unflinching, recognizing it all along as a continuing major threat to human health.”
The Mycobacteria Research Laboratories are home to the only screening center in the world for new compounds that might be effective against tuberculosis, including strains that have developed resistance to current treatments. The laboratories currently house more than 100 faculty, staff and students researching tuberculosis, and are a world leader in basic science leading to new preventive vaccines and medical treatments for the disease.
Through other funding by the NIH, the university has tested more than 75,000 compounds for their effectiveness against the disease. The research team, headed by Dr. Ian Orme, a Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology (MIP), and Dr. Anne Lenaerts, an Assistant Professor in MIP, has identified several new compounds that are highly effective against tuberculosis strains that do respond to drugs. This funding will allow the team to test the compounds against drug resistant strains.
"If there is an outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis, we will need to act rapidly," said Dr. Orme. "We are looking for highly effective new drugs, coupled with highly protective post-exposure vaccines. The latter is a particularly challenging problem, but we have some innovative new ideas as to how to approach it."
Some strains of tuberculosis have developed resistance to multiple drugs. While cases of drug-resistant infections have declined in recent years in the United States, rates in the rest of the world continue to increase. While these cases occur across the globe, they are particularly prevalent in areas of Russia, China and Ecuador as well as in Kazakhstan, Israel and the Baltic states. About 300,000 of the 8 million new cases of tuberculosis that occur each year around the world are resistant to multiple drugs.
In addition, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is up to ten times more expensive to treat than infections that respond to traditional treatments, and patients with resistance often need treatment for three or more years. Research partners IDRI and Mycos are helping develop new post-exposure vaccine candidates that will be tested through the grant. The overall objective is to provide an effective vaccine plus effective drug therapies when needed.
"Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is a man-made problem, caused by defective treatment that allows the bacteria that causes the disease to survive and mutate to become resistant," said Dr. Orme. "Few new drugs have been developed for tuberculosis in general, and even the second generation of drugs that can be used against resistant strains were developed decades ago. Of these treatments, many are often not effective, and some can be toxic. Our ambition with this grant is to look for new drugs that can be effective against the new resistant strains."