PARIS,  (AFP) - Researchers reported progress Monday with an experimental drug cocktail that killed a record 99 percent of TB bacteria in two weeks and costs a fraction of existing treatments.

It may also, crucially, be compatible with AIDS medicine.

While TB claims a life every 20 seconds, mainly in poor countries, more people are developing resistance to the existing arsenal of drugs that can take two years to work and often interacts badly with HIV antiretrovirals.

“The new drug combination killed more than 99 percent of the TB bacteria in the sputum of patients within two weeks of starting to take the drug,” said Mel Spigelman, president of the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development.  The sputum test is an early indicator of how quickly a drug works, but further clinical tests are required to confirm that it does in fact cure TB, a lung disease that spreads through coughing and sneezing. Spigelman and the research team said they were confident that further trials would confirm early, encouraging results for the three-drug combination called PaMZ.

The first tests with 85 patients suggested the drug could potentially cure people with ordinary TB and some forms of multi-drug resistance (MDR) “in as little as four months”, Spigelman told journalists in a telephone conference.

“A new regimen like this could be reducing their (patients’) treatment by up to two years or even more,” he said, and “promises to be in the order of 90 percent cheaper than the current MDR regimen”.

The new drug could reduce from 12,600 to 360 the number of pills an MDR-TB patient would need to take, and eliminate the need for injections.

About nine million people contract tuberculosis every year, and 1.4 million die.

TB is also the lead killer of people with AIDS.