Tuberculosis (TB) is still a leading cause of death worldwide. Almost a third of the world's population is infected with TB bacilli, and each year approximately 8 million people develop active TB and 2 million die as a result. Today's TB treatment, which dates back to the 1970s, is long and burdensome, requiring at least 6 mo of multidrug chemotherapy. The situation is further compounded by the emergence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and by the infection's lethal synergy with HIV/AIDS. Global health and philanthropic organizations are now pleading for new drug interventions that can address these unmet needs in TB treatment.
Methods and Findings
Here we report OPC-67683, a nitro-dihydro-imidazooxazole derivative that was screened to help combat the unmet needs in TB treatment. The compound is a mycolic acid biosynthesis inhibitor found to be free of mutagenicity and to possess highly potent activity against TB, including MDR-TB, as shown by its exceptionally low minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) range of 0.006–0.024 μg/ml in vitro and highly effective therapeutic activity at low doses in vivo. Additionally, the results of the post-antibiotic effect of OPC-67683 on intracellular Mycobacterium tuberculosis showed the agent to be highly and dose-dependently active also against intracellular M. tuberculosis H37Rv after a 4-h pulsed exposure, and this activity at a concentration of 0.1 μg/ml was similar to that of the first-line drug rifampicin (RFP) at a concentration of 3 μg/ml. The combination of OPC-67683 with RFP and pyrazinamide (PZA) exhibited a remarkably quicker eradication (by at least 2 mo) of viable TB bacilli in the lung in comparison with the standard regimen consisting of RFP, isoniazid (INH), ethambutol (EB), and PZA. Furthermore, OPC-67683 was not affected by nor did it affect the activity of liver microsome enzymes, suggesting the possibility for OPC-67683 to be used in combination with drugs, including anti-retrovirals, that induce or are metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes.
We concluded that based on these properties OPC-67683 has the potential to be used as a TB drug to help combat the unmet needs in TB treatment.
A nitro-dihydro-imidazooxazole derivative was shown to have the potential for use against tuberculosis.
One-third of the world's population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB). Most infected people are healthy—the bacteria can remain latent for years, hidden within cells in the body. However, every year 8 million people develop active TB, a chronic disease that usually affects the lungs, and 2 million people die. For most of the second half of the 20th century, TB was in decline because of the powerful antibiotics that were developed from the 1940s onwards. The standard treatment for TB—four antibiotics that have to be taken several times a week for at least six months to flush out any latent M. tuberculosis bacteria—was introduced in the late 1970s and saved many lives. Recently, however, efforts to eradicate TB have been set back by the HIV/AIDS epidemic—people with damaged immune systems are very susceptible to TB—and the emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria.
Why Was This Study Done?
The treatment for TB is long and unpleasant, and patients who develop MDR-TB have to be treated with second-line drugs that are less effective, more expensive, and more toxic. In addition, for people infected with both HIV and TB, some antiretroviral and anti-TB drugs cannot be used at the same time. Many drugs are either activated or removed by enzymes in the liver, so combinations of these two classes of drugs sometimes alter liver function in a way that causes clinical problems. There is, therefore, an urgent need for new, effective anti-TB drugs that attack M. tuberculosis in a different way than do existing drugs. Such drugs should ideally be active against MDR M. tuberculosis, work quickly at low doses, be active against latent bacteria, and have minimal effects on the liver so that they can be used in patients co-infected with HIV. In this study, the researchers investigated a chemical called OPC-67683.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified a compound that inhibited the production of mycolic acid—an essential component of the cell wall of M. tuberculosis—and they tested its ability to kill the organism. They then tested in detail its ability to inhibit bacterial growth in dishes of antibiotic-sensitive and MDR M. tuberculosis and isolates from patients. OPC-67683 inhibited the growth of all these bugs at lower concentrations than the four antibiotics used in the standard TB treatment. It also killed bacteria hidden within human cells as well as or better than these drugs. Next, the researchers treated mice infected with M. tuberculosis with OPC-67683. They found that it reduced the number of bacteria in the lungs of both normal and immunocompromised mice at lower concentrations than the standard drugs. Furthermore, when combined with two of the standard drugs, it reduced the time taken to clear bacteria from the lungs by the standard drug regimen by two months. Finally, the researchers showed that OPC-67683 had no effects on the liver enzymes that metabolize antiretrovirals, and, conversely, that the activity of OPC-67683 was not affected by liver enzymes. Thus, this agent is unlikely to cause clinical problems or lose its efficacy in HIV patients who are receiving antiretroviral drugs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results from laboratory and animal experiments suggest that OPC-67683 could possibly fulfill the criteria for a new anti-TB drug. OPC-67683 is active against MDR-TB. It is also active against intracellular TB, which the authors postulate could be a positive link with the effective treatment of latent TB, and it works quickly in animals when combined with existing anti-TB drugs. Importantly, it also disables M. tuberculosis in a unique way and does not appear to have any major effects on the liver that might stop it from being used in combination with antiretrovirals. All these preclinical characteristics now need to be checked in people—many drugs do well in preclinical studies but fail in patients. These clinical studies need to be expedited given the upsurge in TB, and, write the researchers, OPC-67683 needs to be tested in combination with both conventional drugs and other new drugs so that the best regimen of new drugs for the treatment of TB can be found as soon as possible.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030466.
US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases patient fact sheet on tuberculosis
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on tuberculosis
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on tuberculosis
NHS Direct Online patient information on tuberculosis from the UK National Health Service
World Health Organization information on the global elimination of tuberculosis
Global Alliance for TB Drug Development information on why new TB drugs are needed