BACKGROUND: Bedaquiline is a life-saving tuberculosis drug undergoing global scale-up. People at risk of weak tuberculosis drug regimens are a priority for novel drug access despite the potential source of Mycobacterium tuberculosis-resistant strains. We aimed to characterise bedaquiline resistance in individuals who had sustained culture positivity during bedaquiline-based treatment.
METHODS: We did a retrospective longitudinal cohort study of adults (aged ≥18 years) with culture-positive pulmonary tuberculosis who received at least 4 months of a bedaquiline-containing regimen from 12 drug-resistant tuberculosis treatment facilities in Cape Town, South Africa, between Jan 20, 2016, and Nov 20, 2017. Sputum was programmatically collected at baseline (ie, before bedaquiline initiation) and each month to monitor treatment response per the national algorithm. The last available isolate from the sputum collected at or after 4 months of bedaquiline was designated the follow-up isolate. Phenotypic drug susceptibility testing for bedaquiline was done on baseline and follow-up isolates in MGIT960 media (WHO-recommended critical concentration of 1 μg/mL). Targeted deep sequencing for Rv0678, atpE, and pepQ, as well as whole-genome sequencing were also done.
FINDINGS: In total, 40 (31%) of 129 patients from an estimated pool were eligible for this study. Overall, three (8%) of 38 patients assessable by phenotypic drug susceptibility testing for bedaquiline had primary resistance, 18 (47%) gained resistance (acquired or reinfection), and 17 (45%) were susceptible at both baseline and follow-up. Several Rv0678 and pepQ single-nucleotide polymorphisms and indels were associated with resistance. Although variants occurred in Rv0676c and Rv1979c, these variants were not associated with resistance. Targeted deep sequencing detected low-level variants undetected by whole-genome sequencing; however, none were in genes without variants already detected by whole-genome sequencing. Patients with baseline fluoroquinolone resistance, clofazimine exposure, and four or less effective drugs were more likely to have bedaquiline-resistant gain. Resistance gain was primarily due to acquisition; however, some reinfection by resistant strains occurred.
INTERPRETATION: Bedaquiline-resistance gain, for which we identified risk factors, was common in these programmatically treated patients with sustained culture positivity. Our study highlights risks associated with implementing life-saving new drugs and shows evidence of bedaquiline-resistance transmission. Routine drug susceptibility testing should urgently accompany scale-up of new drugs; however, rapid drug susceptibility testing for bedaquiline remains challenging given the diversity of variants observed.
FUNDING: Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, South African Medical Research Council, National Research Foundation, Research Foundation Flanders, Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine Health Sciences, South African National Research Foundation, Swiss National Science Foundation, and Wellcome Trust.