Published On: Wed, Feb 19th, 2014

New Use For Antipsychotic Drug Holds Promise for Tuberculosis Cure

The increase in antibiotic resistance is coming at a bad time, as more and more pharmaceutical companies begin downsizing or eliminating their antimicrobial research branches due to lack of profits.  Fearing a cultural slip into the pre-antibiotic ages where a minor cut or the common cold were deadly killers, startup biotech companies and universities have been picking up the industry’s slack by working to develop new and novel methods for combating antimicrobial resistance.



One multiple drug resistant organism is Tuberculosis (TB).  TB is a lung infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  Vaccinations for TB exist but vary in effectiveness from 0-80%, depending on variations in the strain or lab used to make the vaccine and general variations among the population. Normally when one contracts TB, any number of at least half a dozen antibiotics are given in combination for 6-12 months.  Multidrug resistant TB is much more difficult to treat, with half a million people contracting the disease each year and a third of those individuals dying.  Extensive drug resistant tuberculosis (XRD-TB) is a new form and until now had no cure.

JørnBolstad Christensen, a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, has developed and patented a new use for an old drug that could help curb the growing threat of XRD-TB.  His patent is on a mirror image of the antipsychotic medication Thioridazin that prevents the bacteria from pumping antibiotics out from the cell.  While both versions of Thioridazin helped to block these pumps, the mirror image worked best without any adverse side effects to the user. 

As far back as 2007, preliminary data showed promise for Thioridazin as an antimicrobial, but the mechanism of action and breadth of treatable illnesses was unknown.  Now, Christensen has patented the mirror image molecule specifically for blocking the pumping mechanisms that afford M. tuberculosis its extreme drug resistance.  This will allow clinicians to treat any TB infection with the same antibiotics the normal, nonresistant strains are susceptible to.

The pump-blocking mechanism of this drug is beneficial over development of another antibiotic.  By blocking the bacteria’s ability to pump antibiotics out of its cell, it is proposed that resistance to Thioridazin will never arise because the bacteria’s mechanism of getting rid of harmful toxins has been blocked.  Therefore, as long as Thioridazin reaches the infection, it will be effective.  This same principle is being applied to treat other infections, with preliminary success against multiple drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that causes pneumonia and septic shock among other infections.

Christensen hopes to license the patent to an NGO to mass develop the drug for treatment of afflicted individuals in third world countries. These countries often have limited access to antibiotics and gets little to no vaccine coverage for TB.

Edward Marks is a PhD student at the University of Delaware.  His research involves the healing of burns and other chronic wounds using nanomedicine techniques, with the goal of pushing any advancement directly into the clinic.  Edward received his BS from Rutgers University and Mastersfrom the University of Delaware.


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  1. Michael G. Bare says:

    I believe the author is referring to XDR-TB not XRD-TB, XDR stands for Extremely Drug Resistant.

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