The war against deadly bacteria

The Times (London) - Just before Christmas two years ago a 56-year-old woman was awaiting death in a London hospital from methicillinresistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.

The staphylococci had attacked the mitral valve of her heart. The only question was whether she would live beyond Christmas. None of the available antibiotics was able to annihilate the organism; even Vanycomycin, which is normally used against MRSA, only had a limited effect.

While the patient was lying in a hospital, The Times was being briefed on a new antibiotic, Zyvox, linezolid, manufactured by Pharmacia Upjohn, now Pharmacia. The chairman of Pharmacia was excited about the results of the clinical trials involving Zyvox, which demonstrated the potential value offered by this new class of antibiotics - the oxazolidinones - the first major antibiotic innovation for 30 years.

The trials showed that Zyvox was effective in the treatment of MRSA, and the general view was these new drugs, with their novel mode of action, were likely to play an important role in tackling the growing problem of drug resistance. By chance the patient's husband heard about the briefing and approached The Times. We were able to put his wife's doctor in touch with Pharmacia. The patient was treated with Zyvox, and made a remarkable recovery.

A recent report from the Patients' Association calls for greater information to be given to the general public about hospital antibiotic-resistant infections. A survey has shown that more than a million people in the United Kingdom have either had personal knowledge of the problem or one of their family have experienced.

Sixty-seven percent of staphylococcus aureus found in hospital infections are MRSA. The most common surgical procedures associated with infection with these organisms are limb amputations or large-bowel surgery, but it also regularly affects vascular surgery, operative reduction of a fractured bone and surgery on the bile duct, liver or pancreas. One in ten patients becomes infected while being treated in a hospital.

The advent of Zyvox, which is likely to be licensed for general use in the early spring, may well prove to revolutionize their treatment.