Scientists at the Tuberculosis Research Centre (TRC) here have hit upon a new molecule with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties that could potentially lead to a better drug for the treatment of TB and common HIV sub-types.

The team at TRC extracted the molecule “Transitmycin” from the marine microorganism “Streptomyces sp. isolated from a soil sample off the Rameswaram coral reef.

The brominated and pigmented (yellow) anti-biotic was found effective during in vitro tests against dormant and active forms of Mycobacterium tuberculosis -- the pathogen that triggers one of the leading infectious diseases world-wide.

“The significance of the discovery of this molecule is that it comes at a time when there is virtually nothing to offer to patients developing multi-drug resistance to an otherwise effective second-generation drug like Rifampicin,” said Vanaja Kumar, Head of Bacteriology at TRC, Chennai.

In its latest report, ‘Global Tuberculosis Control 2010’, the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that although there were significant improvements in tackling the disease, new forms of multi-drug-resistant TB were causing havoc in countries like Russia, China and India.

India also had the highest TB burden in the world reporting 2 million new cases in India in 2009 as against the 9.4 million cases recorded globally.

“Equally significantly, the molecule’s dual anti-bacterial and anti-viral action could lead to a drug that could simultaneously treat patients co-infected with TB-HIV,” she said. Conventionally, Rifampicin (TB) and Nevirapine (HIV) cannot be used simultaneously.

Along with IIT-M, the Periyar University, Salem also collaborated in the Rs. 20-lakh project funded by the Department of Science and Technology.

“Given the anti-pathogenic efficiency of the basic molecule, further refinement of the compound could improve potency by 10 to 20 times,” said Mukesh Doble, Professor, Department of Biotechnology, IIT-Madras. However, despite all the promise at the laboratory-level, a drug from Transitmycin could be far away---at least ten years when it is put through the acid tests of animal trials and clinical trials. The project would also require funds to the tune of around Rs. 300 crore from here on.

In February, the scientists filed for a patent and also sent a 64-page proposal to the ICMR to push the case for funded research to take the project forward.

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