Background: Availability of an ultra-short-course drug regimen capable of curing patients with tuberculosis in 2 to 3 mo would significantly improve global control efforts. Because immediate prospects for novel treatment-shortening drugs remain uncertain, we examined whether better use of existing drugs could shorten the duration of treatment. Rifapentine is a long-lived rifamycin derivative currently recommended only in once-weekly continuation-phase regimens. Moxifloxacin is an 8-methoxyfluoroquinolone currently used in second-line regimens.
Methods and findings: Using a well-established mouse model with a high bacterial burden and human-equivalent drug dosing, we compared the efficacy of rifapentine- and moxifloxacin-containing regimens with that of the standard daily short-course regimen based on rifampin, isoniazid, and pyrazinamide. Bactericidal activity was assessed by lung colony-forming unit counts, and sterilizing activity was assessed by the proportion of mice with culture-positive relapse after 2, 3, 4, and 6 mo of treatment. Here, we demonstrate that replacing rifampin with rifapentine and isoniazid with moxifloxacin dramatically increased the activity of the standard daily regimen. After just 2 mo of treatment, mice receiving rifapentine- and moxifloxacin-containing regimens were found to have negative lung cultures, while those given the standard regimen still harbored 3.17 log10 colony-forming units in the lungs (p < 0.01). No relapse was observed after just 3 mo of treatment with daily and thrice-weekly administered rifapentine- and moxifloxacin-containing regimens, whereas the standard daily regimen required 6 mo to prevent relapse in all mice.
Conclusions: Rifapentine should no longer be viewed solely as a rifamycin for once-weekly administration. Our results suggest that treatment regimens based on daily and thrice-weekly administration of rifapentine and moxifloxacin may permit shortening the current 6 mo duration of treatment to 3 mo or less. Such regimens warrant urgent clinical investigation.