About 1.5 million people died of tuberculosis (TB) in 2017, making it the most lethal infectious disease worldwide. A growing rise in drug-resistant TB is a major obstacle to successfully treating the illness.

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. NIAID

Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Umea University in Sweden have found a compound that prevents and even reverses resistance to isoniazid, the most widely used antibiotic for treating tuberculosis.

The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted in bacteria growing in the lab, setting the stage for future studies in animals and people.

Using the compound in conjunction with isoniazid potentially could restore the antibiotic’s effectiveness in people with drug-resistant tuberculosis. The compound also may bolster the antibiotic’s power to kill TB bacteria – even those sensitive to drugs – which means doctors could start thinking about cutting down the onerous six-month treatment regimen they prescribe today.

“It is very hard for people to comply with such a long regimen,” said co-senior author Christina Stallings, PhD, an associate professor of molecular microbiology at the School of Medicine. “It’s four drugs. They have side effects. It’s no fun. The longer people have to be on antibiotics, the more issues with patient compliance you get, and that can lead to drug resistance and treatment failure. Here, we’ve found a compound that sensitizes bacteria to an antibiotic, prevents drug resistance from arising, and even reverses drug resistance – at least in the lab. If we can turn this compound into a drug for people, it could make our current therapies more effective and be really beneficial for fighting this pandemic.”

Read more at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis