The high-affinity antibody, an anthrax antitoxin, successfully eliminated both anthrax bacteria and its deadly toxins in animal tests. If future tests concur, this could be the first successful treatment for late-stage anthrax infection, even for an anthrax strain that has been designed to resist antibiotics.
The new antibody treatment, reported in the December issue of Infection and Immunity, is the result of collaboration between the labs of Dr. Brent Iverson and Dr. George Georgiou at The University of Texas at Austin and a research team led by Dr. Jean Patterson at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) in San Antonio.
"What we have found is that you may not even need the antibiotics to beat anthrax," says Iverson, professor of chemistry. He says that the new treatment "looks promising" and that it could lead to a simpler and cheaper way to treat anthrax. The new antibody is produced in bacterial cells, rather than the more expensive mammalian cell culture now used to produce anthrax antibodies.
Patterson, chair of the Department of Virology and Immunology at SFBR, adds, "A concern to national defense is that terrorists might design a strain of anthrax that is resistant to antibiotics, but this antitoxin could eliminate those concerns by providing an effective treatment that doesn't require antibiotics."
Anthrax infection is successfully treatable only in its early stages, when antibiotics can be used to kill anthrax bacteria. Before 2002, nothing was available to treat the large amounts of deadly toxin released by those bacteria, which is what leads to death in patients with late-stage anthrax infection.