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World TB Day: How American Innovation Extends Around the World

03/25/2019

Yesterday was World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, which aims to raise awareness of the substantial impact of TB around the world. In recognition of the hard work being done by researchers to find better treatments and prevention methods for this deadly infectious disease, as well as the success we’ve achieved in combatting the disease so far through existing treatments, we’re exploring the latest research into TB and its potentially far-reaching impacts.

 

Every year, 13.7 million people die from a group of diseases collectively known as poverty-related and neglected diseases, which include HIV, TB and malaria, along with a few other lesser-known conditions. These diseases are extremely difficult to treat for reasons ranging from increasing levels of drug-resistance to complicated distribution logistics.

 

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body as well. In the U.S., tuberculosis is uncommon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, conditions such as cancer and rare disease tend to garner more attention domestically, especially in light of recent cutting-edge treatments like cell and gene therapies that show incredible progress with their ability to combat these diseases.

 

While these advances should be celebrated, tuberculosis remains a fatal and prevalent disease throughout much of the world. One fourth of the global population is infected with the bacteria that causes TB, and most people who are infected do not show symptoms, making TB extremely difficult to diagnose and treat. Additionally, TB is among the top ten causes of death worldwide and the leading cause of death by infectious disease. Multidrug resistant TB (MDR-TB) presents a particular threat to many populations, especially among vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, people who are malnourished, or people with weakened immune systems. For these reasons, MDR-TB has been deemed a “public health crisis” by the World Health Organization.

 

America’s biopharmaceutical companies are working to change the status quo by pursuing new mechanisms of action against TB, with the aim of shortening the course of treatment and improving the effectiveness, safety and tolerability of new medicines. Already, newly-approved treatments and those currently in development are combatting multi-drug-resistant TB throughout the world and improving the prognosis for those living with the disease. In fact, TB diagnosis and treatment efforts have led to an estimated 54 million lives saved between 2000 and 2017.

 

Yet for a disease like MDR-TB, new treatments are only half the battle faced by developing countries, where there may be delay in diagnosis, access to clinicians and medicines is low, and poor infrastructure prevents easy distribution of treatments. For these reasons, biopharmaceutical companies and their partners are also working to address many other barriers to treatment, such as the limited availability of diagnostics to quickly identify TB in infected patients. A long battle remains, but each day, the dedicated efforts of biopharmaceutical researchers take us a little closer to the finish line.

 

Our advances in combatting TB demonstrate that innovation is far-reaching, extending well beyond American borders to the rest of the world. In the same way that progress is universal, so too would the damage be if we were to enact policies that threaten to slow that progress down. For these reasons, several recent Washington proposals are cause for concern over researchers’ ability to continue R&D innovation across the country—they threaten to chill investment into cutting-edge science, right at a time when we need it the most. Learn more.