Case Western University has kicked off a mid-stage trial of AstraZeneca's investigational TB drug in Africa to determine its effectiveness as a potential new weapon against the disease.

The Phase IIa study - which is being funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the US National Institutes of Health, and will involve 75 patients - is testing the firm's AZD5847 against TB alone as well as in cases where there is co-infection with HIV. 

AZD5847 is an antibiotic active against Gram-positive bacteria and mycobacteria, which has shown activity in culture against a broad array of drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of TB-causing mycobacterium tuberculosis, according to AZ.

Last year, 8.7 million people around the globe became infected with TB and 1.4 million lost their lives to the disease, underscoring the need for new and effective treatments and, crucially, ones that can help sidestep the growing challenge of combating drug-resistant forms of the bacteria.

"New, simplified treatments that cure TB infection more quickly are desperately needed," stressed NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, noting that it has "been nearly 50 years since a new drug specifically developed for TB was licensed". 

Despite being a relatively small study, it is hoped that its findings will "offer insights into whether this investigational drug shows promise in people who are newly diagnosed with TB, as laboratory and earlier clinical safety trials indicate it might," Fauci said.

South Africa has the highest TB infection rate in the world, accounting for 5% of the disease's global burden, and it also has the highest TB/HIV co-infection rate at 73%.