Menachem Shoham, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has discovered novel antivirulence drugs that, without killing the bacteria, render Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and Streptococcus pyogenes, commonly referred to as strep, harmless by preventing the production of toxins that cause disease. The promising discovery was presented this week at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco.
MRSA infections are a growing public health concern, causing 20,000 to 40,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. It is the most prevalent bacterial pathogen in hospital settings and in the community at large, with about one million documented infections per year nationally, costing an estimated $8 billion annually to treat.
The problem has become increasingly severe as the bacteria have developed a resistance to antibiotics. As result, health care providers are running out of options to treat patients suffering from antibiotic-resistant infections, like MRSA and strep, creating a dire need for alternative treatments and approaches.
"Staph bacteria are ubiquitous and normally do not cause infections, however, occasionally these bacteria become harmful due to their secretion of toxins," says Dr. Shoham. "We have discovered potential antivirulence drugs that block the production of toxins, thus rendering the bacteria harmless. Contrary to antibiotics, these new antivirulence drugs do not kill the bacteria. Since the survival of the bacteria is not threatened by this approach, the development of resistance, like that to antibiotics, is not anticipated to be a serious problem."
Dr. Shoham identified a bacterial protein, known as AgrA, as the key molecule responsible for turning on the release of toxins. AgrA, however, needs to be activated to induce toxin production. His goal was to block the activation of AgrA with a drug, thus preventing the cascade of toxin release into the blood that can lead to serious infections throughout the body.