Review of Respiratory Medicine - Volumen 22, Número 2 - June 22

Review Article

Practical Pharmacological Aspects of Drugs Used for the Treatment of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis in Adults and Children

Aspectos farmacológicos prácticos de las drogas para el tratamiento de la tuberculosis drogorresistente en adultos y pediatría

Autor Palmero Domingo1,2, Lagrutta Laura1,2, Aidar Omar1,2, Bartoletti Bruno1, Cruz Víctor1, Gamberale Ana1, García Ana1 , González Montaner Pablo1,2, Inwentarz Sandra2, Vescovo Marisa1,2

1Hospital de Infecciosas Dr. F. J. Muñiz, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina 2Instituto de Tisioneumonología Prof. Dr. RE. Vaccarezza, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina

Correspondencia : Domingo Palmero E-mail:


The emergence of resistant strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to multiple drugs and the difficulties of their diagnosis and treatment constitute a challenge to global public health. To face this challenge, new anti-tuberculosis drugs, such as bedaquiline, pretomanid, and delamanid, as well as replacement drugs, such as fluoroquinolones, linezolid and clofazimine, are used. Based on the evidence provided by multicenter studies, drugs associated with a better prognosis of drug-resistant tuberculosis have been discovered and, recently, a new classification has been proposed, as well as new totally oral regimens. In this review, we describe current treatment regimens and practi­cal pharmacological aspects required when prescribing new drug-resistant tuberculosis treatment regimens.

Key words: Tuberculosis, Drug-resistance, MDR-TB, Pharmacology


La emergencia de cepas resistentes de Mycobacterium tuberculosis a múltiples dro­gas, las dificultades de su diagnóstico y tratamiento constituyen un desafío a la salud pública mundial. Para afrontar esta situación, se emplean nuevas drogas antituber­culosis, como bedaquilina, pretomanid y delamanid, así como drogas repropuestas, como fluoroquinolonas, linezolid y clofazimina. Con base en la evidencia brindada por estudios multicéntricos, se han descubierto fármacos asociados a un mejor pronóstico de la tuberculosis drogorresistente y, recientemente, se ha propuesto una nueva clasifi­cación, así como nuevos esquemas totalmente orales. En esta revisión, describimos los esquemas de tratamiento actuales y los aspectos farmacológicos prácticos necesarios a la hora de la prescripción de los nuevos regímenes de tratamiento de la tuberculosis drogorresistente.

Palabras clave: Tuberculosis, Drogorresistencia, TB-MDR, Farmacología

Recibido: 12/09/2021

Aceptado: 02/12/2022


The global threat of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) has promoted the research of new treat­ment regimens, new drugs, and repurposed drugs1 (not originally sold for TB, such as fluoroquino­lones, linezolid and clofazimine) together with the traditionally called “second-line drugs” for the purpose of improving the efficacy of treatment of these forms of the disease.

The objective of this review is to briefly analyze current treatment regimens according to interna­tional rules, and to describe dosages in adults and children, mechanisms of action, adverse reactions, and use in cases of renal and liver failure, preg­nancy and tuberculous meningitis, of available drugs to treat drug-resistant TB. Thorough review on DR-TB found in2.

There are different DR-TB categories3-5: mono­resistant TB, caused by strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) and resistant to only one drug, the most concerning being monoresistance to isoniazid (Hr) and rifampicin (Rr); multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB), which shows resistance to at least isoniazid (H) and rifampicin (R); pre-extensively drug resistant TB (pre-XDR-TB), which is MDR and also shows resistance to one of the antituberculous fluoroquinolones (levofloxacin or moxifloxacin); and at last, extensively resistant (XDR-TB), which apart from being pre-XDR-TB, is also resistant to at least bedaquiline or linezolid (group A of the World Health Organization, WHO).

In 2018, the WHO published a new classifica­tion of drugs to be used for DR-TB, updated in 20206 (Table 1) and based on the meta-analysis of individual MDR-TB patients data published by Ahmad et al7.

Table 1. WHO classification of drugs for the treatment of MDR-TB and their inclusion in a treatment regimen6

Treatment regimens of Hr-TB, Rr-TB and MDR-TB

The treatment recommended by the international guidelines for Hr-TB is a 6-month regimen with four drugs, without initial phase: levofloxacin, pyrazinamide, rifampicin and ethambutol. Treat­ment duration is determined by the need to com­plete 6 months of levofloxacin6, 8.

Rr-TB is a category that arose from the advent of the rapid molecular method for diagnosis called Xpert Mtb RIF, which detects in Mtb, with almost 100% specificity, the presence of the five most common mutations of the RpoB gene that explain resistance to R9. Given the fact that approximately 80% of the Rr strains show additional resistance to H10 and that a first-line drug for the treatment of TB has been lost, Rr-TB should be treated as MDR-TB6, 8.

According to new recommendations, MDR-TB can be treated with a 100% oral regimen including the three drugs of the WHO Group A (bedaquiline, linezolid, fluoroquinolone), together with one or two drugs from Group B (cycloserine or clofazi­mine). Bedaquiline is administered the first 6 months (see Table 2), and the other three or four drugs are given throughout the whole treatment, which lasts 18 months (it may be shortened in mild cases). Group C drugs would be left as replacement of Groups A and B if they can’t be used due to resistance or adverse reactions6, 8.

Alternatives to isoniazid and rifampicin for the treatment of DR-TB

Tables 2 and 3 show every drug, mechanisms of action, dosage in adults and children, most common adverse reactions, use in renal and liver failure and pregnancy and passage into CSF (ce­rebrospinal fluid), a fundamental element in the treatment of tuberculous meningitis.

Table 2. Drugs from WHO Groups A and B used in the treatment of drug-resistant TB6, 8, 15-22
Table 3. Drugs from WHO Group C used in the treatment of drug-resistant TB6,8,15,24

Treatment of XDR-TB11-13

As seen in its definition, it implies resistance to at least H, R, one fluoroquinolone (levo or moxi­floxacin) and bedaquiline or linezolid. From that minimum base of the definition (which already cre­ates a complicated situation but still leaves other therapeutic options), resistance can be extended practically to all anti-TB drugs. Also, the antibio­gram of multi-treated patients doesn’t correlate very well with the clinical picture, as in MDR-TB, and it is more common to find differences between the phenotypic and genotypic methods. So, it is important to ask the patients detailed questions regarding their previous treatments and clinical and bacteriological responses. To sum up, the design of a regimen for XDR-TB is individualized, and no guidelines can be provided as in other forms of DR-TB. Regimens are indicated with drugs that show persistent antibiogram sensitivity plus those that weren’t previously used, trying to get a minimum number of potentially effective drugs (3 or 4). In an effort to improve the diagnosis of these patients, the bedaquiline-delamanid combi­nation has been used, as well as bedaquiline alone, for one year of treatment. New regimens such as BPaL (bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid) will provide evidence on the efficacy of the new drug, pretomanid, under these circumstances14. The prognosis of these patients is worse than in other forms of DR-TB.


In this brief review of the practical pharmacologi­cal aspects of drugs for the treatment of DR-TB in adults and children, we show drugs (such as bedaquiline, delamanid and pretomanid) that have been specifically studied as antituberculosis drugs, something that hadn’t occurred since the discovery of rifampicin, half a century ago. This is an auspicious fact, together with the evidence showing the activity of drugs that allow a 100% oral treatment in children and adults. There is availability of regimens based on published evidence for the treatment of monoresistant and multi-drug resistant TB. Unfortunately, XDR-TB, the most severe mycobacterial resistance situation, is still a complex problem in terms of therapeutic and prognostic aspects.

Conflict of interest

Authors declare there isn’t any conflict of interest in rela­tion to this publication.


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