AstraZeneca has linked up with US/Indian group Cellworks, in a collaboration supported by the Wellcome Trust, to speed the design of combination therapies for the treatment of drug-sensitive and resistant tuberculosis.

The partners say the new agreement "will also pave the way for the creation of platforms and approaches to handle multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), a condition that is reaching epidemic proportions in many developing parts of the world". Current therapies are based on creating combinations of three to four drugs "and cycling through ad-hoc regimens, which are largely ineffective against MDR-TB", they added.

AstraZeneca said the pact will "pull from a pool of existing anti-infective drugs and attempt to find an effective combination with better efficacy and lower toxicity than the treatment regimens provided today". The firm notes that "the traditional process of designing an ideal drug combination is lengthy and expensive as there are several thousand possible combinations and the search space is too large to be handled by conventional wet-lab techniques".

Cellworks will therefore use its predictive platform, "which it pioneered in oncology and autoimmune disorders", to model drug MDR-TB and rationally identify 'synergistic combinations'. AstraZeneca will then validate the top ten most effective combos.

Manos Perros, head of the AstraZeneca Infection Innovative Medicines Unit, thanked the Wellcome Trust "for funding this important work", saying that "we believe that new medicines and new combination therapies to treat TB will be delivered through a concerted effort from multiple partners rather than one company's lab". No other financial details were disclosed.

The deal was announced just as Johnson & Johnson asked regulators in the USA for an accelerated review of bedaquiline to be used as part of combination therapy for MDR-TB (see today's e-news for more details)