March 28, 2006

Researchers at the New York-based Albert Einstein College of Medicine have synthesized chemicals that are more effective than isoniazid, the leading anti-tuberculosis (TB) drug, according to a study published in the journal Chemistry & Biology. This could herald the development of much-needed treatments for TB -- which kills an estimated 2.4 million people annually.

One of the chemicals studied, 2-HA, was found to be four times more lethal than isoniazid against TB bacteria, while the other, 2-OA, proved 10 times more effective in fighting the disease. Since these drugs do not appear to harm higher organisms, it is likely that they could be used against TB bacteria without risking patients' health.

"Drug-resistant mycobacterium tuberculosis is a worldwide problem, particularly in people with weakened immune systems such as those infected with HIV," said William Jacobs, senior author of the study and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the college. "We urgently need to develop new and more effective antituberculosis drugs."

Isoniazid, the current first-line anti-TB drug, stops TB bacteria from forming mycolic acid by targeting the InhA enzyme. In the study, the college's researchers synthesized more than a dozen chemical "decoys" for InhA to latch onto, in order to prevent the enzyme from catalyzing its normal reaction and spreading.