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Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Superbugs face strengthened attack
Infections picked up on hospital wards cost NHS in England 1bn a year
A new antibiotic with power to kill drug-resistant "superbugs" has won approval in the US.

The drug, Zyvox, could be a useful weapon in the fight against hospital-acquired infections, including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

There are strains which are proving quite difficult to treat. Having alternative agents that we can now turn to is good news

Dr Alan Johnson, Public Health Laboratory Service
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Zyvox - the first synthetic antimicrobial drug to treat hospital-acquired infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

Infections acquired by patients while they are in hospital cost the NHS in England almost 1bn each year.

Bacterial diseases acquired in hospital affect some two million people in the United States and cause between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths annually.

As bacteria become resistant to older antibiotics, doctors are increasingly looking for new treatments.

Manufactured by Pharmacia and Upjohn, in Michigan, Zyvox will be restricted initially to hospital or nursing homes, the FDA said.

Zyvox, known generically as linezolid, is a new class of antibacterial drug designed to treat infections associated with vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VREF) and hospital-acquired pneumonia and complicated skin infection, including cases due to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

'First for 40 years'

The FDA said: "The drug is the first in a new class of synthetic drugs - the oxazolidinone class - approved for use in the United States and the world.

"It is also the first drug in over 40 years to be introduced into the US marked for treatment of MRSA infections."

In clinical trials involving more than 4,000 patients, Zyvox was found to have a cure rate for VREF of 67% when given in high doses, and 52% when given in low doses.

In a further trial involving 400 patients, Zyvox was also found to be "as effective as vancomycin for treatment of hospital-acquired pneumonia, including cases due to MRSA", the FDA said.

Zyvox did, however, have frequent side effects, including headache, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Zyvox's arrival follows the debut last September of Synercid, an antibiotic that also holds approval for fighting vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.

Works differently

Zyvox works differently than Synercid and older drugs. As part of a class known as oxazolidinones, it stops bacteria from multiplying by halting production of proteins vital to their growth early in their life cycle.

Other antibiotics stop the spread of germs later in the process.

Zyvox comes in both intravenous and oral forms and should be available in the US within weeks.

Dr Alan Johnson, clinical scientist at the Public Health Laboratory Service in the UK, welcomed the FDA decision.

He said: "The problem we have is we are seeing resistance to currently available isolates, in some instances multi-resistance.

"There are strains which are proving quite difficult to treat. Having alternative agents that we can now turn to is good news."

The drug is already available on a named patient basis for a small number of people in the UK who are resistant to other drugs.

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See also:

05 Nov 99 | Antibiotics
Antibiotics: A fading wonder
18 Jun 99 | Health
We can stop bug, say doctors
04 Nov 99 | Health
Superbug death toll rises
22 Nov 99 | Health
Superbugs in the firing line
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