Latent tuberculosis: An international project to fight a worldwide disease

March 24, 2009

Montreal, March 24th, 2009 - A team of researchers from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) has received the largest grant ever awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for a clinical trial of latent tuberculosis (TB) therapy. The principal investigator: Dr Dick Menzies, together with Dr Kevin Schwartzman, Dr Andrea Benedetti and Dr Madhukar Pai from the Montreal Chest Institute of the MUHC were awarded $4.9 million for an international clinical trial that will study the effectiveness of a new treatment for latent TB that could help to eradicate TB worldwide.

Towards an innovative treatment

The current treatment for latent tuberculosis lasts nine months and causes many side effects. "The new treatment we are testing is with a drug called rifampin. The regimen lasts only four months, and we have already demonstrated that it causes a lot fewer unwanted side effects. This study will allow us to assess whether the new treatment is as effective as the classic treatment," explained Dr. Menzies. Rifampin is currently prescribed for the active form of tuberculosis.

If the experimental results confirm the researchers' hypothesis, this new treatment could represent an important step towards eradicating tuberculosis. Since it will be easier to follow and less toxic than the current drug used, patients will be more likely to adhere to the treatment regimen. This will result in a much more effective tool to fight the disease.

"Tuberculosis is a growing threat worldwide. A shorter drug treatment is a promising option for this disease. Trials such as this provide opportunities to understand how to scale-up treatment regimens for infectious diseases, making treatments more accessible to vulnerable and poor populations," says Dr. Nancy Edwards, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health.

An international study for a global result

In order to obtain statistically significant results that can be generalized to a very broad population, the project will involve almost 6000 patients on every continent for a 28-month period. The study will be directed and coordinated from Montreal but will also be conducted in four other cities in Canada, plus centres in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Korea, Australia, Benin and Guinea.

"With this study, Dr. Menzies and his team will make an important contribution to the global fight against TB," says Dr. Bhagirath Singh, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity. "By finding a safer and more effective treatment for latent TB infection, Dr. Menzies will save lives and help Canada and countries around the world control the spread of this devastating disease."
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Latent tuberculosis

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately one-third of the world's population are carriers of the latent form of the disease. Although these individuals show no symptoms and are not contagious, they can develop the active form of tuberculosis at any time. As a hidden reservoir of the disease, they represent the main obstacle to its eradication.

Dr. Dick Menzies

Dr. Dick Menzies is the Director of Respiratory Medicine at the MUHC and a researcher in the Respiratory Health Axis and Health Outcomes Axis at the Research Institute of the MUHC. He is also a professor in epidemiology and biostatistics as well as respiratory medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University.

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge.

The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

McGill University Health Centre

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