London : In a first, British scientists have developed a non-antibiotic drug that can one day successfully treat tuberculosis (TB) in humans.
The drug, developed by the University of Manchester, works by targeting Mycobacterium tuberculosis' (Mtb) defences rather than the bacteria itself. It can also take out its increasingly commonly antibiotic resistant strains.
In the study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, animals with acute and chronic TB infection were treated with the compound.
The findings showed that the compound does not kill the bacteria directly, but results in a significant reduction in the bacterial burden.
"For more than 60 years, the only weapon doctors have been able to use against TB is antibiotics. But resistance is becoming an increasingly worrying problem and the prolonged treatment is difficult and distressing for patients," said Lydia Tabernero, Professor from the varsity.
"But by disabling this clandestine bacteria's defences we're thrilled to find a way that enhances the chances of the body's immune system to do its job, and thus eliminate the pathogen," Tabernero said.
Mtb secretes molecules called Virulence Factors -- the cell's secret weapon -- which block out the immune response to the infection, making it difficult to treat.
The team identified one Virulence Factor called MptpB as a suitable target, which when blocked allows white blood cells to kill Mtb in a more efficient way.
"The great thing about MptpB is that there's nothing similar in humans - so our compound which blocks it is not toxic to the human cells," Tabernero said.
"Because the bacteria hasn't been threatened directly, it is less likely to develop resistance against this new agent, and this will be a major advantage over current antibiotics, for which bacteria had already become resistant," he explained.
The researchers hope for clinical trials in humans up in four years.