Drug-resistant tuberculosis is running rampant in nations across the world -- a result, at least in part, of antibiotic misuse -- but a new discovery could lead to a potential treatment option for the deadly disease.
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College found that an off-patent pain drug known as oxyphenbutazone was able to kill drug-resistant TB in lab tests. Their findings are published in the journal PNAS.
However, the researchers expressed concern that the drug is hard to test in mice (drugs must be tested in animals before they're allowed to be tested in humans in clinical trials, per the Food and Drug Administration) because it becomes metabolized to be inactive faster in mice.
Oxyphenbutazone was used as a treatment for pain (like that which comes from arthritis), but lost its patent in the 1970s and really hasn't been used much in humans since, the researchers said. Medical Daily reported that the drug costs just 2 cents a day.
It also is known for having some toxicities -- it's "not a drug you should take for aches and pains if a safer alternative is available," study researcher Dr. Carl Nathan said in a statement -- but the frequency of these aren't as bad as those of tuberculosis treatments, they said.
"It is difficult today to launch clinical studies on a medication that is so outdated in the United States, that it is mainly used here in veterinary medicine to ease pain," Nathan said in the statement. "No drug firm will pay for clinical trials if they don't expect to make a profit on the agent. And that would be the case for an off-patent drug that people can buy over the counter for pain in most of the world."
Drug-resistant tuberculosis is a serious problem around the world, with a recent New England Journal of Medicine study showing that as many as 10 percent of TB cases in China are resistant to the most common drugs, the Associated Press reported.
"One in 10, by any standard globally, would be pretty high," the researcher of that study, Dr. Daniel Chin of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Beijing, told the Associated Press.
And a recent study in the journal The Lancet showed that the prevalence of both drug-resistant tuberculosis and the even-harder-to-treat extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis are higher than was before thought, Reuters reported.
"Without a robust pipeline of new drugs to stay one step ahead, it will be nearly impossible to treat our way out of this epidemic," Tom Evans, of the nonprofit Aeras, who was not involved in that study, told Reuters.