Tuberculosis remains a scourge of global health with shrinking treatment options due to the spread of drug-resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Intensive efforts have been made in the past 15 years to find leads for drug development so that better, more potent drugs inhibiting new targets could be produced and thus shorten treatment duration. Initial attempts focused on repurposing drugs that had been developed for other therapeutic areas but these agents did not meet their goals in clinical trials. Attempts to find new lead compounds employing target-based screens were unsuccessful as the leads were inactive against M. tuberculosis. Greater success was achieved using phenotypic screening against live tubercle bacilli and this gave rise to the drugs bedaquiline, pretomanid and delamanid, currently in phase III trials. Subsequent phenotypic screens also uncovered new leads and targets but several of these targets proved to be promiscuous and inhibited by a variety of seemingly unrelated pharmacophores. This setback sparked an interest in alternative screening approaches that mimic the disease state more accurately. Foremost among these were cell-based screens, often involving macrophages, as these should reflect the bacterium's niche in the host more faithfully. A major advantage of this approach is its ability to uncover functions that are central to infection but not necessarily required for growth in vitro. For instance, inhibition of virulence functions mediated by the ESX-1 secretion system severely attenuates intracellular M. tuberculosis, preventing intercellular spread and ultimately limiting tissue damage. Cell-based screens have highlighted the druggability of energy production via the electron transport chain and cholesterol metabolism. Here, I review the scientific progress and the pipeline, but warn against over-optimism due to the lack of industrial commitment for tuberculosis drug development and other socio-economic factors.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘The new bacteriology’.
This paper is dedicated to the memory of Vincent Maison-Blanche.
One contribution of 15 to a discussion meeting issue ‘The new bacteriology’.
- Accepted April 8, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.