Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced that it is seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the first new type of medication to combat tuberculosis (TB) in more than 40 years.
The experimental drug, known as bedaquiline, would also become the first product to treat multidrug-resistant TB, an increasingly common variant of the disease that has developed a resistance to two or more primary TB drugs.
The drug has been developed by the research and development unit of J&J subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, with two mid-stage studies lasting six months having tested the drug in several hundreds of patients suffering from multidrug-resistant TB.
Late-stage testing of the drug in 600 patients is due to start in the coming months, with the study aimed at establishing whether treatment of multidrug-resistant TB can be reduced to nine months from the 18-24 months currently recommended by the World Health Organization.
Tuberculosis has proven to be a problematic disease to treat, particularly in developing countries, due to the extended period required to treat it. Patients who stop taking medication midway through an extended course only serve to exacerbate the problem, allowing bacteria to develop a resistance to drugs that have already been taken.
TB kills approximately 1.4m people a year worldwide, with around 150,000 of those deaths due to multidrug-resistant variants of the disease.