BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

January 02, 2013

FDA approval of new TB drug benefits patients and highlights the agency’s lifesaving programs

Communications Officer
GHTC

The New Year has brought some much-needed good news in the fight against tuberculosis (TB). The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it has approved a new treatment for multidrug-resistant TB that can be used as an alternative when other drugs fail. The approval is the first time in 40 years that the FDA had approved a drug that attacks TB in a different way from currently available treatments.

The new drug, bedaquiline, is made by Janssen Therapeutics. It will be sold under the brand name Sirturo, and is the first drug developed specifically to treat multi-drug resistant TB involving the lungs. Sirturo was approved under the FDA’s accelerated approval program, which allows the agency to approve a drug to treat a serious disease based on clinical data showing that the drug will likely benefit patients in need. According to the FDA, this program provides patients earlier access to promising new treatments while the drug developer conducts additional studies to confirm the drug’s benefits and safety.

The FDA has approved a new treatment for multidrug-resistant TB that can be used as an alternative when other drugs fail. The approval is the first time in 40 years that the FDA had approved a drug that attacks TB in a different way from currently available treatments. Photo credit: PATH.
The FDA has approved a new treatment for multidrug-resistant TB that can be used as an alternative when other drugs fail. The approval is the first time in 40 years that the FDA had approved a drug that attacks TB in a different way from currently available treatments. Photo credit: PATH.

A study in September in The Lancet found that almost 44 percent of patients with TB in countries like Russia, Peru, and Thailand showed resistance to at least one second-line drug. “Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis poses a serious health threat throughout the world, and Sirturo provides much-needed treatment for patients who have don’t have other therapeutic options available,” Edward Cox, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said.

Given that the standard drugs used to treat the disease were developed in the 1950s and 1960s, it is no surprise that the TB bacterium has become more and more resistant to these older drugs over the past 50 years. There is a pressing and urgent need for even more new TB drugs, which makes this new FDA approval so significant.

It is also noteworthy that the FDA approved Sirturo under its accelerated approval program, in addition to granting the drug fast track, priority review, and orphan-product status. Beyond the lifesaving benefits of the drug itself, these FDA programs resulted in quicker access to this much-needed new TB drug and should serve as models for other drugs desperately needed around the world. It’s critical that the FDA continues to support its priority review, fast track, and similar programs, which can help speed access to safe and effective global health drugs. It’s equally critical that Congress provides the FDA with sufficient funding to carry out this global health work. With the threat of sequestration—which would result in a cut of $318 million for the FDA—still looming, policymakers in Congress must prevent sequestration and protect FDA’s global health activities. Otherwise, approvals for new global health drugs like Sirturo could suffer.

“There is no question that we need more and better treatments for drug-resistant TB. And we’ll continue to need new drugs as the disease mutates or changes,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote in a blog post about the approval. “Meanwhile, Sirturo is a welcome addition to the drugs that we have available to treat patients who have multi-drug resistant TB who need this drug as part of their treatment regimen.”

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