Several pharmaceutical manufacturers, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), and NovaDigm Therapeutics, are working on experimental vaccines to treat a powerful strain of staph infection that has long affected hospitals, nursing homes, and has increasingly infected schools and prisons.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the methicillin-resistant bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, kills more than 11,400 Americans each year, entering the body through a cut, a sore, a catheter, or a breathing tube. For the most part, staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which inhabit the surface of a person’s skin or in their nasal passages, are benign. But approximately 1 percent of people who carry the bacteria, carry the toxic type MRSA. Once infected, patients are treated with strong antibiotics, antibiotics to which the bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant.
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To fight the infection, which causes more deaths in American than melanoma and costs as much as $8 billion a year to treat, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and NovaDigm have found two possible solutions. Both Pfizer’s and Glaxo’s vaccine attack the bacteria on four biological fronts, known as antigens, in a method similar to the HIV drug cocktail. NovaDigm’s vaccine recognizes the presence of the bacteria on the skin’s surface and sparks an immune response to kill the bug before it enters the body.
The new vaccine will be used in hospitals, for patients going into surgery or those with compromised immune systems, but the greater problem is now in public places beyond hospital doors. While due to increased awareness, MSRA infections in hospitals and other acute-care facilities in the U.S. have decreased by 20 percent between 2008 and 2010, incidences of staph infections in the community are rapidly increasing. For the global community, the spread of the staph infection is a concern as well, making the market for the vaccine worldwide.
However, investors must note the vaccines are years away from approval. Two other drug companies tried and failed to make an effective vaccine previously, most recently Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK) in 2011.
All three vaccines are in the first phase of a three-step system of research required for U.S. marketing approval. Results from the first stage will be presented next month at the Infectious Diseases Society of America in San Diego.
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