Desperate for New Antibiotics, Docs Turn to Old, Risky Ones

Potentially lethal side effects did them in the first time
By Caroline Miller,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2010 9:45 AM CDT

(Newser) – In the ongoing battle against MRSA and other deadly drug-resistant bacteria, doctors are trying out antibiotics that were long ago rejected as too dangerous to be used. These drugs, practically as old as antibiotics themselves, were banished because they had lethal side effects. But a lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline and a surge in resistant bacteria has them getting another look. "People are going all the way back to the original antibiotics that were shelved because of toxicity," an infectious disease specialist tells the Los Angeles Times. "We are desperate."

Chloramphenico, a drug from the 1950s, is working on MRSA, a drugmaker says, as is the 1960s-era rifampin, which was used then to treat TB. Now the challenge is to manage the risk—chloramphenico was linked to aplastic anemia, a potentially fatal bone marrow disease. "If you're going to die anyway, you may as well try it," argues a drug company CEO, referring to patients with severe MRSA infections. "This is a second or third line of defense if nothing else is working."
(Read more MRSA stories.)

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