Researchers receive $3 million-plus NIH grant to develop treatment for drug-resistant fungus

With a new $3 million-plus grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Case Western Reserve University researchers are examining the next level of treatment for Candida auris (C.auris), a multidrug-resistant yeast that causes serious infection and, in some cases, death.

This fungus was discovered in Japan and has spread internationally, including to the United States.

The five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of NIH will allow the team led by researchers at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center to evaluate and enhance an antifungal drug developed by the New Jersey-based biotech company, SCYNEXIS.

What is different and particularly scary about Candida auris is that it can survive on skin and healthcare surfaces up to two weeks, allowing the spread from person to person in healthcare settings and nursing homes."

Mahmoud Ghannoum, professor of dermatology and pathology at the School of Medicine and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center

The grant will allow the research team, led by Ghannoum as principal investigator and Thomas McCormick, an associate professor at the School of Medicine, to work on a drug therapy that not only may treat C. auris, but prevent it.

"This fungus is not usually killed by clinically used antifungal drugs, which makes infection difficult to treat and can often result in death for patients. It is also difficult to identify with standard laboratory methods," Ghannoum said. "We hope to develop new antifungal compounds that will lead to clinical drugs through the research supported by this grant."

C. auris began spreading in the United States in 2015 and was deemed "an urgent threat" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) due to its drug resistance. The fungus can be contracted through contact with contaminated medical equipment or spread person-to-person. There is a 30-60% mortality rate, according to the CDC, although many of those infected had comorbidities or other illnesses.

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