An émigré scientist from the former Soviet Union is working to develop a new treatment for diarrhea based on a century-old remedy commonly used in his former homeland. Alexander Sulakvelidze, chief scientist for privately held Baltimore biotech Intralytix, says the bacteriophage-based probiotic preparation shows promise for managing shigella infections, a “significant worldwide cause of diarrheal disease” — and apparently the U.S. Army agrees. Bacteriophages — highly specific viruses that infect bacteria — may be used to target “problem” bacterial species in the human gastrointestinal tract, according to Sulakvelidze.
The company recently received a $100,000 phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the Pentagon to develop the treatment, an alternative to antibiotics. Shigella are “major gastrointestinal tract pathogens of particular concern” to the Army because U.S. troops are often stationed in countries where the disease is widespread, said Sulakvelidze, the company’s principal investigator for the contract, in a statement.
There are about 164.7 million cases of shigellosis worldwide, almost entirely in developing nations, according to the World Health Organization. About half a million visitors from industrialized nations to developing nations contract the infection annually, and about 1.1 million people die from it each year, 61 percent of whom are children younger than 5. There is no vaccine for shigellosis, and some strains of it have developed resistance to antibiotics, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.