National Institutes of Health Awards Nearly $8 Million to Colorado State University for Tuberculosis Research

Colorado State University today was awarded $7.8 million for tuberculosis research from the National Institutes of Health, further supporting the university’s already extensive research programs into the disease. The award is in partnership with the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle and Mycos Research, a Loveland-based biotechnology company.  

Tuberculosis causes two million deaths worldwide and is the second most deadly infectious disease in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Eight million new cases occur each year. In addition, drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis also have been identified by the NIH as pathogens that could be intentionally introduced into populations as a biological weapon.

The two awards provide $1.1 million to continue the university’s efforts toward screening for effective drugs to combat the disease and $6.7 million to develop new medications for drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis.

"This award further demonstrates Colorado State’s leadership in addressing issues important to our world through the research of our faculty," said Tony Frank, provost and senior vice president. "The university’s role in attacking great global challenges such as infectious diseases continues to expand, and funding from the National Institutes of Health is a critical component in allowing us to form the international partnerships needed to move our research from the bench into medical applications that make a difference to millions of people around our planet."

Colorado State is the only screening center in the world for new compounds that might be effective against tuberculosis, including strains that have developed resistance to current treatments. The university currently houses more than 100 faculty, staff and students researching tuberculosis, and the university is a world leader in basic science leading to new preventive vaccines and medical treatments for the disease.

"Colorado State is committed to the fight to eradicate infectious disease through researching ways to treat, prevent and cure diseases such as tuberculosis that directly impact the health, well-being and safety of people in Fort Collins, the United States and abroad," said Hank Gardner, interim vice president of research.

Through other funding by the NIH, the university has tested more than 75,000 compounds for their effectiveness against the disease. The research team, headed by Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology Department Professor Ian Orme and Assistant Professor Anne Lenaerts, has identified several new compounds that are highly effective against tuberculosis strains that do respond to drugs. This funding will allow the team to test the compounds against drug resistant strains.

"If there is an outbreak of drug-resistant tuberculosis, we will need to act rapidly," Orme said. "We are looking for highly effective new drugs, coupled with highly protective post-exposure vaccines. The latter is a particularly challenging problem, but we have some innovative new ideas as to how to approach it."

Some strains of tuberculosis have developed resistance to multiple drugs. While cases of drug-resistant infections have declined in recent years in the United States, rates in the rest of the world continue to increase. While these cases occur across the globe, they are particularly prevalent in areas of Russia, China and Ecuador as well as in Kazakhstan, Israel and the Baltic states. About 300,000 of the 8 million new cases of tuberculosis that occur each year around the world are resistant to multiple drugs.

In addition, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is up to ten times more expensive to treat than infections that respond to traditional treatments, and patients with resistance often need treatment for three or more years.

"Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is a man-made problem, caused by defective treatment that allows the bacteria that causes the disease to survive and mutate to become resistant," Orme said. "Few news drugs have been developed for tuberculosis in general, and even the second generations of drugs that can be used against resistant strains were developed decades ago. Of these treatments, many are often not effective, and some can be toxic. Our ambition with this grant is to look for new drugs that can be effective against new, resistant strains."   

Research partners IDRI and Mycos are helping Colorado State develop new post-exposure vaccine candidates that will be tested through the grant. The overall objective is to provide an effective vaccine plus effective drug therapies when needed.

The IDRI is a non-profit institute that supports research to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for infectious disease and develop products that can ultimately be produced in the countries that need them. IDRI works with industry, universities, hospitals in both developed and developing countries, government and private agencies.

Mycos Research is dedicated to providing resources to the mycobacterial infection researchers.

This grant dovetails into the university’s existing research into important infectious diseases on its Foothills Campus, which houses prestigious research programs such as the Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The Rocky Mountain RCE, which includes researchers from Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, conducts research to address national needs to counteract potential agents of emerging diseases and bioterrorism. The Rocky Mountain RCE will develop new vaccines, drugs and diagnostics for emerging diseases; provide training in emerging diseases and biosecurity to scientists, physicians, veterinarians and other public health personnel throughout the region; and assist state and federal agencies in responding to emerging diseases such as West Nile virus.