MassBiologics developing promising alternative treatment for diphtheria in wake of global antitoxin shortage

Journal Science reports on two recent diphtheria deaths in Europe, outbreaks in Asia, Africa

By Lisa Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

January 13, 2017
  Deborah C. Molrine, MD, MPH
 

Deborah Molrine, MD, MPH

A worsening shortage of the antitoxin used to treat diphtheria, the deaths of two unvaccinated children to the disease in Europe and declining vaccination rates demonstrate the need for a new approach, and MassBiologics of UMass Medical School is developing one, according to a Jan. 13 story in the journal Science.

Prior to the introduction of a diphtheria vaccine in the 1920s, this respiratory infection was a major cause of illness and death among children worldwide, killing hundreds of thousands. The infection, which spreads rapidly from person to person through coughing and sneezing, causes sore throat, fever and swollen glands as it destroys tissues in the respiratory system and makes it difficult to breathe. Despite the success of global immunization programs that caused a dramatic reduction worldwide, there are still thousands of cases reported annually in India, as well as outbreaks in Pakistan, Malaysia and Haiti.

Deborah C. Molrine, MD, MPH, deputy director of clinical affairs at MassBiologics and professor of pediatrics, told Science that MassBiologics has identified a human monoclonal antibody that neutralizes the toxin produced by diphtheria—an important advance that could replace the current serum-derived antitoxin. Research trials using animal models will soon be complete, but funding is needed to proceed to a human clinical trial, she said.

Dr. Molrine said in the story that the biggest challenge is raising the $1 million to $2 million needed to produce the antibody necessary for clinical trials in humans. “We have been talking to lots of different agencies and foundations to see if we can get some help.”

MassBiologics is a non-profit FDA-licensed manufacturer of vaccines and biologics with a mission to develop products that address unmet medical needs or diseases of public health concern. Since 1894, it has continuously produced medicines to combat the threat of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, RSV and other infectious diseases.

Learn more about the global health threat of diphtheria in the full Science article:
Life-saving diphtheria drug is running out

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
WGBH-TV’s Greater Boston: Klempner discusses promising research into a seasonal prevention for Lyme
Klempner explains Lyme disease risk in Boston Magazine
Top Story: MassBiologics at UMMS developing pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent Lyme disease

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