22. May 2012 15:31
Auranofin, a cheap off-patent medicine for arthritis, has been shown to kill the parasite that causes amoebic dysentery.
Tests in animals suggest that auranofin could be 10 times as effective as the current standard therapy and have a much lower side-effect profile.
The new potential indication was found through a US government-funded programme to find affordable treatments for rare or neglected diseases among existing drugs.
Amoebic dysentery, caused by the parasite Entamoeba histolytica, is widespread in the developing world, causing 70,000 deaths per year.
Auranofin was among a number of drugs tested on parasites in vitro and then in infected mice and hamsters.
The results suggest that it is 10 times as effective as metronidazole, the current standard treatment, so could be used in smaller doses or as a one-off tablet.
In addition, the drug has few side effects at the likely required dose, whereas metronidazole can cause severe nausea, dizziness and headache.
Anjan Debnath of the University of California at San Francisco said: “This is a drug that you can find in every country. Based on the dosage we’re seeing in the lab, this treatment could be sold at about $2.50 per dose, or lower.
“That cost saving could make a big difference to the people who need it the most.”