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Research sheds new light on how painkiller for dogs kills tuberculosis bacteria

The research has the potential to dramatically improve treatment, especially of drug resistant TB.

Professor Sanjib Bhakta

A seven-year, multi-centre research study has shed new light on how a painkiller commonly used by vets for cats and dogs could repurpose in the fight against drug resistant tuberculosis (TB).

The drug, Carprofen, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) putting it in the same group of painkillers as ibuprofen and aspirin, was first found to kill the bacteria responsible for TB in research led by Professor Sanjib Bhakta, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Biochemistry, at Birkbeck in 2013. The new study, which has seen Professor Bhakta working alongside scientists from five different research centres, has revealed that the drug most likely works by inhibiting the ‘efflux mechanisms’ that protect bacteria from substances that harm them.

The research also found that it is not possible to generate bacteria that are resistant to Carprofen and that it most likely kills Mycobacterium tuberculosis through multiple routes. In addition, it found that Carprofen can reverse antimicrobial drug resistance in TB. These important findings offer the promise that, when used in combination with other drugs, Carprofen may prove effective in the fight against both TB and importantly, drug-resistant TB, which can occur when the bacteria become resistant to the two most powerful antibiotics used to treat it.

In the UK, following a two-decade rise, TB cases have fallen again to around 5,000 cases annually. Around the world, every year over 10 million people are diagnosed with TB, and 1.6 million die of the disease, mainly because they cannot get the drugs that would make them better.

Professor Sanjib Bhakta said: “I am really pleased to have been able to work with colleagues across four other research centres to build on the initial findings of work that I led into Carprofen’s effect on tuberculosis. TB is a major killer around the world and our combined research has the potential to dramatically improve treatment, especially of drug resistant TB. Our next step is to look into how a drug could be formulated so that it reaches the site of infection directly and works most effectively.

“I am extremely grateful for the funding that we received from the Wellcome Trust for this work and am excited about future collaborations with colleagues to explore how an effective drug should be formulated. We are committed to taking this research programme forward and tackling one of the major global health challenges through collaborative inter-institutional research.”

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