Control of drug-resistant TB in the Pacific region: a long-term imperative

Centenary, Media releases

Welcoming a funding boost announced by Health Minister Plibersek today, Professor Warwick Britton, head of Centenary Institute’s tuberculosis research program, said, “We need to be helping countries like Papua New Guinea come to grips with the problems of TB control.

This means having the resources to treat TB, recognize drug resistant TB, and have treatment regimens to control the spread of TB.”

In the wake of calls for a more intense focus on tuberculosis control, Centenary’s contribution to TB research in Australia and the Pacific has been recognised by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), while the World Health Organisation (WHO) is encouraging health services to invest in MDR-TB.

Professor Britton, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney, has been awarded $2.49 million towards a Centre of Research Excellence on tuberculosis control: from discovery to public health practice and policy – a collaborative program with colleagues from the University of Sydney, Woolcock Institute for Medical Research, University of Melbourne, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Today’s grant adds to the significant investment and effort by Centenary in containing the spread of TB, still one of the world’s most devastating infectious diseases and a growing threat to Australia.

There have been reports of drug resistant strains of TB in Papua New Guinea, our closest neighbour.

“Where multi drug resistant TB has been around for a decade or more, and has not been treated, it is completely predictable that extensively drug resistant TB — that is, resistance to the five main classes of drugs used to treat TB – will occur in countries like Papua New Guinea” Professor Britton said.

In March this year, Centenary opened a $1.2 million high-containment laboratory that will allow researchers to double their efforts to understand and fight back against TB, a bacterium that lives inside two billion people worldwide and kills three people every minute.

“We are working to understand how the bacterium infects us and can hide so successfully from our immune defences for decades; why only 10% of infected people become ill; and how to stop the spread of TB by carefully managing infected people. In addition, we are applying what we learn to develop new ways of fighting TB, potential new drugs to treat TB, and new vaccines to protect us.”

“The Centenary Institute’s contribution to the war against TB is broad and deep,” says Professor Britton. “It is important for us not only to assist the global fight against this deadly disease, but also to be prepared against an invasion of our own country.”

Media Contacts

Interview: Professor Warwick Britton – 0414 981 003 or contact Suzie Graham on 0418683166

Media Release — Minister’s office / NHMRC


Centenary’s TB Program

In addition to its research work in Sydney, the Institute is extensively involved in containment programs in Vietnam and China. Dr Magda Ellis is collaborating with colleagues in Ningxia Medical University and the Chinese National Human Genome Centre analysing the genes of 6,000 people in North-West China to identify what makes some individuals particularly susceptible to contracting TB while others are protected.

Dr Greg Fox is based in Vietnam where he is working with National TB Program and Prof Guy Marks to reduce the risk that family members face when a relative has active TB.

He is also collaborating with Dr Bernadette Saunders in Sydney to analyse genetic variation in TB patients and control subjects in Hanoi in a study that parallels the Chinese work.

More at

Professor Warwick Britton

Head of the Mycobacterial Research Program at Centenary Institute of Medical Research, Bosch Professor of Medicine and Professor of Immunology, Head, Discipline of Medicine, Central Clinical School, University of Sydney

Drug Resistant Tuberculosis

There are two kinds of drug-resistant tuberculosis: MDR or multi drug resistant TB and XDR or extensively drug resistant TB. MDR-TB is a strain of TB resistant to the two main drugs used to treat TB. The importance of this is in the fact that a more complicated therapy is required and therapy must continue for at least 18 months. If MDR-TB is transmitted to others, they will acquire drug-resistant TB. There are small numbers of MDR-TB in Australia and the disease is well managed by Australia’s health service, although complex and high cost to do so.

The strains of TB recognised in the last 5 years or so, since 2006, are XDR-TB. In these cases the TB is resistant to 5 drugs, which are the main classes of drugs used. XDR-TB is much more difficult to treat. While only two-three cases in Australia, the number of XDR-TB cases around the world is increasing. If MDR-TB is not treated – if countries do not have the resources to treat TB resistant to 2 drugs, then over a period of years, in the community, XDR-TB will become a problem.

About the Centenary Institute

The Centenary Institute is an independent leader in medical research seeking improved treatments and cures for cancer, cardiovascular, autoimmune, liver, genetic and infectious diseases. We are working to discover new prevention, early diagnosis and treatment options to enable eachgeneration to live longer, healthier lives than the one before. Centenary’s affiliation with the RPA Hospital and the University of Sydney means that our discoveries can be quickly applied to the fight against disease in the clinic.