On a global scale, tuberculosis is behind only AIDS as the leading cause of death from infectious disease. Findings published online today in the journal Science offer fresh hope for treating the deadly scourge: a new drug candidate treats TB in mice twice as fast as conventional treatments do.

Current antibacterial treatment regimes for TB can require up to nine months of daily drug doses. Patients who do not--or cannot--comply with their doctor's orders may not recover from the disease. Furthermore, they may contribute to drug-resistant forms. A Johnson & Johnson research team identified a new compound known as R207910 that kills the M. tuberculosis bacterium by inhibiting the cell's energy-producing machinery. "The drug acts through a novel mechanism of action, and is therefore active against all multidrug resistant (MDR) strains of TB tested so far," team leader Koen Andries says.

The scientists tested the new compound using a mouse model of TB and found that substituting R207910 for one of three antibiotics in a treatment cocktail significantly reduced the time required to clear the animals' lungs of bacteria. After two months, instead of the usual four, the mice were TB-free. Initial trials indicate that the drug is safe for people, although much more study is required. But Andries is cautiously optimistic: "Barring any unsuspected side effects, we really do think we have a very interesting compound."