WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Late-stage clinical trials of a new antibiotic for the increasingly common intestinal infection Clostridium difficile, which is especially lethal to the elderly, suggest it prevents recurrence far better than currently used medications.
Researchers tested the new drug, fidaxomicin, against vancomycin, a powerful drug often prescribed to C. difficile patients. These cases often involve virulent diarrhea and colon inflammation that proves fatal to an estimated 5,000 Americans each year, according to federal statistics.
People over age 65, especially those in hospitals and nursing homes, are more vulnerable to the infection, which experts estimate strikes up to 3 million Americans annually, many of whom have taken broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat other illnesses.
Among the 629 patients studied, fidaxomicin was associated with a 45 percent lower rate of recurrence than vancomycin, which researchers said was due to fidaxomicin's ability to precisely target C. difficile bacteria in the gut. Vancomycin has a similar clinical cure rate, but it kills more "good" intestinal bacteria bugs that help keep C. difficile at bay, explained study co-author Dr. Sherwood Gorbach.
"It's virtually impossible to beat vancomycin as a cure, but [using fidaxomicin] we could beat it with recurrence," said Gorbach, professor of medicine, immunology, molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
"Fidaxomicin does kill the bug, but in terms of recurrence, it doesn't disturb the normal balance of flora in the intestines," he said. "This drug should actually save lives."
The study was funded by Optimer Pharmaceuticals, which is developing fidaxomicin, and is published in the Feb. 3 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
While vancomycin is often used as a last
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