Of all achievements in medicine, the successful treatment of tuberculosis has had one of the greatest impacts on society. Tuberculosis was a leading cause of disease and a mortal enemy of humanity for millennia. The first step in finding a cure was the discovery of the cause of tuberculosis by Robert Koch in 1882. The sanatorium movement that began shortly afterward in Europe, and soon spread to the United States, brought attention to the plight of afflicted persons, and catalyzed public health action. The antituberculosis benefit of streptomycin was announced in 1945, although application was limited by the rapid development of resistance. para-Aminosalicylic acid, also discovered in 1945, when combined with streptomycin was found to greatly reduce the occurrence of drug resistance. In 1952, isoniazid opened the modern era of treatment; it was inexpensive, well tolerated, and safe. In the early 1960s, ethambutol was shown to be effective and better tolerated than para-aminosalicylic acid, which it replaced. In the 1970s, rifampin found its place as a keystone in the therapy of tuberculosis. The use of rifampin enabled the course of treatment to be reduced to nine months. Incorporation of pyrazinamide into the first-line regimen led to a further reduction of treatment duration to six months. Treatment of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis remains a difficult problem requiring lengthy treatment with toxic drugs. However, shortened regimens show promise, and two new drugs, bedaquiline and delamanid, have demonstrated effectiveness in preliminary studies and are being used for extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Keywords: chemotherapy; drug development; history.