A $1.1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help Colorado State researchers sort through a plethora of different laboratory testing systems currently used to study the effectiveness of potential TB drugs and gain an industry consensus among the world’s 20 TB drug research organizations on which laboratory tests are the most effective.

In addition, the group will do an extensive review of historical TB research to look for useful research details and testing methods that may have been lost over time.

Streamlining this system will also help laboratories in universities and the industry more accurately compare information in their search for an effective drug or drugs.

“With a growing urgency, the fight to develop drugs to treat and prevent tuberculosis has become increasingly important as the bacterium that causes the illness mutates,” said Anne Lenaerts, the primary researcher on the drug model comparison grant. Lenaerts is an assistant professor in Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. “An organized preclinical testing system among the tuberculosis community that is devoted to finding treatments will help to more quickly advance our research into results that can save lives.”

About the Grant Program

While government agencies typically fund basic tuberculosis research, funding dollars often run short of the ability to fund some areas that need attention. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked for proposals from TB drug researchers after extensively examining problems that hinder tuberculosis drug development.

The resulting plan asked researchers to propose ways to address 14 gaps identified as slowing down drug development, and the foundation pledged up to $40 million in funding for the proposals. The 14 gaps cover areas where research could make a difference in drug development, but that are typically not funded or not attractive to fund, but are hampering drug development.

“We are quite honored to receive two grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” said Dr. Lance Perryman, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Our tuberculosis program makes a significant impact as a leader in tuberculosis drug development. This funding will help us tackle two important problems facing that field today and advance a goal we share with the Gates Foundation of saving millions of people from suffering from tuberculosis.”

TB Research at Colorado State

For the past 10 years, Colorado State University has been actively involved in the National Institutes of Health’s drug compound testing program for tuberculosis. The University’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology was awarded more than 10 years ago the NIH Contract (N01-AI-95385 Animal Model Testing of Tuberculosis Drugs) which is part of the Tuberculosis Antimicrobial Acquisition and Coordination Facility (TAACF) program funded by National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The TAACF consists of Southern Research Institute, the National Hansen’s Disease Program, and the Institute for Tuberculosis Research (UIC), RTI International, Johns Hopkins University and Colorado State University. The Hansen’s Disease Center evaluated in a primary screening approximately 75,000 compounds and Southern Research completed screening in vitro of approximately 445,000 compounds studying them carefully for anti-tuberculosis activity. The role of CSU was to take promising hits from the initial screens for the evaluation in animals.

Investigators at the University have developed numerous tests and models used to research TB drugs today, including specialized tests that facilitate screening large numbers of compounds within a shorter time frame.

Developing drugs for tuberculosis is a lengthy process. Before they reach human trials, potential drug compounds are tested first against the bacterium that causes tuberculosis in a test tube. Tests for toxicity and tests to determine how well they are absorbed by the body follow. Subsequent testing includes tests to determine if they reach the blood stream adequately, then to track how well they travel to and penetrate targeted cells in the lungs. Finally, the compounds are tested for their effectiveness at lowering the amount of bacteria in the lungs. Between each round of testing, which can last for several weeks or months, the potential drug compounds are refined by chemists and retested. A potential compound may repeat one level of testing multiple times because of these chemical refinements.

A drug that treats tuberculosis in a novel way has not been developed in decades, and the bacterium that causes the disease continues to mutate to become resistant to current drug approaches. About 9 million people are infected with TB each year and 2 million die. Of the 9 million new cases each year, close to half a million are resistant to multiple drugs that once were effectively used to treat the disease.

In 1993, the World Health Organization declared TB a global health emergency, a situation that continues today.

“These grants are testaments to the extraordinary work being done by our faculty to advance our knowledge and treatment of this terrible disease – and to the need for our infectious disease Supercluster, which will help Colorado State get the results of this research to market more quickly,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Tony Frank.

Working to move research to market

Tuberculosis is a focus of Colorado State University’s MicroRx, a first-of-its-kind enterprise to speed the transition of life-saving research on infectious diseases from the academic world into the global marketplace. MicroRx, unveiled in February, is just the first of the university’s Superclusters – alliances of academic researchers, economists and business experts designed to encourage collaboration and bridge the vastly different worlds of business and academia.

Since the 1960s, Colorado State University has engaged in infectious disease research and today is a world leader in researching vaccines, diagnostic tests, medications and ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Colorado State’s Foothills Campus, a global complex devoted to infectious disease research, is supported by more than $200 million in research funds from entities including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, NASA, Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.