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Doctors Discover New Treatment for “Superbug” C. difficile

SEP 22, 2016 | EINAV KEET
As so-called “superbug” bacteria continue to develop new ways of resisting antibiotics, scientists are on the search for new and alternative treatments. Promising news from a recent study is now showing that we may be able to battle the most virulent strains of Clostridium difficile bacteria with a class of drugs already on the market.

Marking a somewhat surprising discovery by two researchers from The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology and The Worm Institute of Research and Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports details new findings on the effective use of deworming drugs on a broad range of C. difficile strains.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the threat of infections caused by the pathogen has reached an urgent hazard level in the United States, causing nearly 500,000 infections, 15,000 deaths, and costing $1 billion in excess medical expenses each year.  

People suffering from C. difficile infections experience life-threatening diarrhea, often brought on after a hospital visit or treatment for other infections with antibiotics. The bacteria cause illness by releasing disease-inducing toxins A and B, and infections can be persistently recurring and hard to treat. Strains of the bacteria have proven resistant to antibiotic drugs such as fluoroquinolone, clindamycin, and moxifloxacin, and with some strains causing particularly deadly outbreaks in hospitals around the country, the medical community has been on the hunt for alternative treatments against C. difficile, investigating small molecule and biotherapeutic strategies.

Enter researchers Kim D. Janda, PhD, and Major Gooyit, PhD. A press release issued by The Scripps Research Institute explains how after personally dealing with a difficult infection from C. Difficile, Dr. Janda became keen on researching better drugs to fight the illness. In seeking a new weapon, the researchers made a novel discovery on the effectiveness of salicylanilide anthelmintics—a class of veterinary drugs commonly used for deworming cattle, sheep and goats—against the bacteria. They knew salicylanilides have antimicrobial properties and low oral bioavailability, and had shown promise in fighting Staphylococcus infections, and so the researchers began testing several forms of the drug. 

“We started looking at other compounds for their effects on C. difficile and happened to be using a salicylanilide called closantel as a control,” said Dr. Janda, and the drug showed a surprising effectiveness.

Big advances in treatment can