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Tuberculosis (Edinb). 2010 Mar;90(2):94-118. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2010 Mar 16.

Rifamycins--obstacles and opportunities.

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Aristoff Consulting, LLC, Dexter, MI, United States.


With nearly one-third of the global population infected by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB remains a major cause of death (1.7 million in 2006). TB is particularly severe in parts of Asia and Africa where it is often present in AIDS patients. Difficulties in treatment are exacerbated by the 6-9 month treatment times and numerous side effects. There is significant concern about the multi-drug-resistant (MDR) strains of TB (0.5 million MDR-TB cases worldwide in 2006). The rifamycins, long considered a mainstay of TB treatment, were a tremendous breakthrough when they were developed in the 1960's. While the rifamycins display many admirable qualities, they still have a number of shortfalls including: rapid selection of resistant mutants, hepatotoxicity, a flu-like syndrome (especially at higher doses), potent induction of cytochromes P450 (CYP) and inhibition of hepatic transporters. This review of the state-of-the-art regarding rifamycins suggests that it is quite possible to devise improved rifamycin analogs. Studies showing the potential of shortening the duration of treatment if higher doses could be tolerated, also suggest that more potent (or less toxic) rifamycin analogs might accomplish the same end. The improved activity against rifampin-resistant strains by some analogs promises that further work in this area, especially if the information from co-crystal structures with RNA polymerase is applied, should lead to even better analogs. The extensive drug-drug interactions seen with rifampin have already been somewhat ameliorated with rifabutin and rifalazil, and the use of a CYP-induction screening assay should serve to efficiently identify even better analogs. The toxicity due to the flu-like syndrome is an issue that needs effective resolution, particularly for analogs in the rifalazil class. It would be of interest to profile rifalazil and analogs in relation to rifampin, rifapentine, and rifabutin in a variety of screens, particularly those that might relate to hypersensitivity or immunomodulatory processes.

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