Lilly and Other Organizations Fight Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis Around the World

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Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the world’s oldest diseases. It is curable, but in some parts of the world, you would never know it. Every year nearly 2 million people across the globe die from TB, an airborne bacteria that can spread to any of the body’s organs, but is mostly found in the lungs. Each year about 500,000 people develop a highly contagious, multidrug-resistant strain of TB (MDR-TB) that is more difficult and more expensive to treat.

The average MDR-TB patient infects as many as 20 people over the course of his or her lifetime. The World Health Organization defines MDR-TB as resistant to two of the first-line anti-TB medicines, rifampicin and isoniazid. MDR-TB often develops in patients who do not finish treatment for TB, have failed first-line treatment or contracted the disease unknowingly.

Treatment for TB lasts six to nine months, is administered under the supervision of a health care provider, and may require isolation from family and friends to prevent contamination. In much of the developing world, people find it difficult to complete such intense treatment. MDR-TB is even harder to diagnose, with treatment lasting up to 24 months. Failure to comply with treatment can lead to more virulent forms of the disease, including extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

Significant human resources are required to oversee treatment and compliance in countries where health care workers are scarce. Given the threat of this growing pandemic, Eli Lilly and Company has formed two collaborations to fight TB and MDR-TB as its signature corporate social responsibility effort.

The first, the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership, founded in 2003, is a public-private affiliation of 18 global organizations that formed to eradicate MDR-TB in this lifetime. The cornerstone of this effort is increasing access to two antibiotics that are used to treat MDR-TB by transferring the manufacturing know-how to the four hardest-hit countries: China, Russia, South Africa and India. By sharing this information, the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership not only increases the supply of effective medicines in the countries that need it most but also supports local economies in manufacturing high-quality medicines. It is an important investment that includes teaching scientists and plant managers how to make the drugs as Lilly would.

The MDR-TB Partnership is also focused on influencing global health policy, training health care workers, raising awareness, supporting communities and patient advocacy.

The second collaboration, formed in 2007, is the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative, a non-profit public-private collaboration with the goal of filling the early-stage TB pipeline for future drug development.

Both of these collaborations bring to life Lilly’s perspective on corporate social responsibility, which holds that local partners are better suited to solve local problems, collectively making a global impact. Lilly has invested a total of $135 million in cash, medications and technology to fight MDR-TB and to search for new TB medicines.

Over the past few years, the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership has trained thousands of health care workers in the most affected countries on how to treat MDR-TB, and created global training materials for nurses, hospital managers and physicians to improve the treatment, prevention and management of MDR-TB. Organizations involved in the effort include the International Council of Nurses, the International Hospital Federation and the World Medical Association.

When the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership was initiated in 2003, the World Health Organization set a goal of treating 20,000 MDR-TB patients by 2010. That goal was achieved three years early: a testament to the power of the partnership and the passion of those involved.

The Partnership’s work has not gone unnoticed. It was recognized with an award in June 2007 from the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Lilly MDR-TB Partnership was called a “superlative model.” Last year, Lilly and ICN won a Corporate Citizenship Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center. The Clinton Global Initiative also recognized the Lilly/ICN partnership for its commitment to “implement innovative solutions designed to produce tangible results that will positively change lives.” The Lilly/MDR-TB Partnership is the only private sector/corporate initiative of its kind focused on TB.

Both the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership and the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative aim to fight and eliminate a devastating disease while inspiring other organizations to form partnerships to address other global health issues. Learn more about both programs at

Tuberculosis and MDR-TB. Partners in Health. Accessed online at on January 14, 2009.

Green Light Committee Initiative of the Working Group on MDR-TB of the Stop TB Partnership Annual Report 2007. World Health Organization. Accessed online at on Jan. 28, 2009.

TB Guidelines for Nurses in the Care and Control of Tuberculosis and Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis. International Council of Nurses Global TB/MDR-TB Global Resource Centre. International Council of Nurses. Accessed online at on Jan. 14, 2009.

Drug and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) – Frequently Asked Questions. World Health Organization. Accessed online at on Jan. 28, 2009.

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