Scientists Discover New Cure for the Deadliest Strain of Tuberculosis

Donald McNeil Jr. in The New York Times:

TSAKANE, South Africa — When she joined a trial of new tuberculosis drugs, the dying young woman weighed just 57 pounds. Stricken with a deadly strain of the disease, she was mortally terrified. Local nurses told her the Johannesburg hospital to which she must be transferred was very far away — and infested with vervet monkeys. “I cried the whole way in the ambulance,” Tsholofelo Msimango recalled recently. “They said I would live with monkeys and the sisters there were not nice and the food was bad and there was no way I would come back. They told my parents to fix the insurance because I would die.” Five years later, Ms. Msimango, 25, is now tuberculosis-free. She is healthy at 103 pounds, and has a young son. The trial she joined was small — it enrolled only 109 patients — but experts are calling the preliminary results groundbreaking. The drug regimen tested on Ms. Msimango has shown a 90 percent success rate against a deadly plague, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

…But in the trial Ms. Msimango joined, nicknamed Nix-TB, patients took only five pills a day for six months. The pills contain just three drugs: pretomanid, bedaquiline and linezolid. (Someday, the whole regimen might come in just one pill, as H.I.V. drugs do, one expert said.) Until recently, some advocacy groups opposed pretomanid’s approval, saying the drug needed further testing. But other TB experts argued that the situation is so desperate that risks had to be taken. Dr. Gerald Friedland, one of the discoverers of XDR-TB and now an emeritus professor at Yale’s medical school, called Nix “a wonderful trial” that could revolutionize treatment: “If this works as well as it seems to, we need to do this now.”

More here.