News Scan for Aug 01, 2016

News brief

Microbiome treatment for C diff fails in phase 2 trial

Biotechnology firm Seres Therapeutics announced late last week that SER-109, a drug designed to treat patients with recurring Clostridium difficile infections (CDIs), failed in a phase 2 study.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was intended to determine whether SER-109—essentially a collection of good bacteria from the human microbiome in pill form—could reduce the risk of CDI over an 8-week period. A total of 89 subjects were enrolled in the trial, with 59 receiving SER-109 and 30 receiving a placebo. Based on the 8-week data, CDI recurrence occurred in 44% of the subjects who received treatment with SER-109, compared with 53% in the placebo group—a difference that was not statistically significant.

The company said that the results were unexpected in light of the positive data from earlier trials, and that it plans to make appropriate adjustments to development plans for the drug in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration.

"C. difficile infection treatment options, including unregulated fecal microbial transplants, remain poor," Seres Therapeutics President and CEO Roger Pomerantz, MD, said in a company news release. "We will take our learnings from this study and continue in our pioneering efforts to develop meaningful new microbiome therapeutics for C. difficile infection and other serious diseases."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that C difficile caused nearly 500,000 infections in 2011, and 29,000 patients died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis.
Jul 29 Seres Therapeutics news release


Siberia anthrax outbreak grows to 40 suspected cases

Siberia is reporting 40 cases of suspected anthrax in hospitalized nomadic herders, up from 13 cases last week, the Siberian Times reported on Jul 30.

The infections may be linked to the carcasses of decades-old reindeer thawing during unseasonably hot weather and releasing Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes anthrax.

According to a Popular Science report today, high temperatures have melted a layer of permafrost in Siberia and exposed the carcasses of reindeers that died during an anthrax outbreak in 1941. B anthracis, which lives in soil, can infect and kill humans and animals. Humans can contract the bacteria when they touch infected animals, inhale spores, or eat contaminated foods.

The Siberian Times reports that half of the suspected cases are in children, and that 1,200 reindeer have already died of suspected anthrax infection. The outbreak is in the Yamalo-Nenets region, which is above the Arctic Circle. That area had a heat wave in July, with several days in the 90s.
Jul 30 Siberian Times article
Aug 1 Popular Science article
Jul 29 CIDRAP News scan on earlier reports
CIDRAP overview on anthrax

Flu Scan for Aug 01, 2016

News brief

Study: 1918 pandemic flu survivors led average-length lives

Contrary to some hypotheses, 1918 pandemic flu did not shorten the lifespan of survivors, at least in male soldiers, New Zealand researchers reported today in Epidemiology and Infection.

The investigators analyzed individual military files of 1,107 soldiers on a troop transport vessel that had experienced an outbreak of pandemic flu in 1918 and compared them with 1,108 randomly selected personnel from two other troop ships that did not have an outbreak.

They found no statistically significant difference in the lifespans of the outbreak cohort, which was 71.5 years, and the comparison cohort, which was 71.0. In fact, the outbreak cohort was slightly more likely to survive past 1950 and to participate in World War II (comparisons just passed statistical significance for those two measures, at P = 0.036 and 0.043, respectively).
Aug 1 Epidemiol Infect abstract


Cote d'Ivoire reports 10 H5N1 outbreaks affecting 33,000 poultry

Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa last week reported 10 outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) affecting flocks in the central, eastern, and southern parts of the country and more than 33,000 domestic birds.

Onset dates of the outbreak vary from Mar 12 to Jul 4, and flock sizes range from 11 in a backyard flock to a farm of 27,453 chickens. A cockerel sampled as part of surveillance of live-bird markets also tested positive back in March.

All told, 4,253 poultry fell ill, and all but 5 of them died. The combined flocks totaled 33,348 birds. Animal health officials have enacted steps such as disinfection of the premises and surveillance zones around each affected flock.

Cote d'Ivoire is one of several countries highlighted a couple weeks ago when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for more surveillance and other steps to address Africa's ongoing problem with highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu.
Jul 27 OIE report
Jul 14 CIDRAP News story "FAO calls for more surveillance after African H5N1 outbreaks"

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