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The latest TB R&D developments must pave the way for greater investment

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Last week saw critical announcements on tuberculosis (TB) research and development (R&D), which show important progress in the field. The Union calls for greater knowledge and data sharing to ensure that scientific research can have the biggest impact in the fight to end TB.

In the last week the MPP announced the sublicence of sutezolid to MPP, the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global TB published a new report entitled ‘The Future of TB and Global Health Research: Dying for A Cure II' and the TAG R&D funding report was released.

In 2019, TB R&D funding surpassed US$900 million — the second highest year of funding on record, yet this was far short of the US$2 billion goal that UN member states agreed to reach by 2022. Funding for TB vaccine research has been essentially flat since 2005. We will have to wait to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted financing for TB R&D.

The TAG R&D funding report and the APPG report call for countries to ensure spending for TB research does not fall below 0.1 per cent of Gross Expenditure on Research and Development and The Union supports this call. It is important that future TB R&D investment includes additional and targeted funding for operational research, evidence to policy and policy uptake initiatives, such as The Union’s SORT-IT programme.

The long-delayed development of sutezolid has been given a boost with the sublicence agreement with the Gates MRI, hopefully allowing sutezolid to replace linezolid, a key drug in the treatment for drug-resistant TB, reducing the toxic side effects associated with linezolid.

However, these announcements bely a deeper problem – that funding for TB R&D still falls far below what is needed and without additional funding we will continue to wait years for new developments in TB care.

We are at an exciting time in TB R&D with consortiums working on TB treatment development utilising the new classes of drugs advancing through clinical development and TB vaccine candidates entering phase three trials. However, these developments are associated with higher costs and unless something changes in TB R&D funding, these developments will be stalled due to a lack of funding, not scientific reasons.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just what political will and funding can achieve. With billions invested in COVID treatments and vaccines. We have also seen the acknowledgement of the vital importance of access to tools for detection, prevention, treatment and response. The WHO Solidarity call to action called for key stakeholders and the global community to voluntarily pool knowledge, intellectual property and data necessary for COVID-19.

Every person has the right to attain the highest level of health – and having access to essential treatments is a key part of realising that right.

We must ensure this pooling of knowledge occurs in TB and the announcement this week from the Gates MRI and the MPP supports this aim. The Union supports knowledge and data sharing to ensure that we advance science, shorten R&D timelines and ensure that the outputs of scientific research are available and accessible to all.