An international research team says it has discovered the first drug that successfully combats sepsis, a blood infection that kills about 225,000 Americans each year. Researchers have spent about 15 years looking for a drug to fight the disease.
"From what we saw, this is a tremendous breakthrough," said Dr. Michael Matthay of the University of California, San Francisco. "This is truly a landmark trial." Matthay reviewed the test results with other scientists for The New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings were initially set to be published March 8, but the journal is releasing the findings Friday because of their medical importance.
The research was carried out on 1,690 patients with severe sepsis at 164 locations in 11 countries. It was coordinated at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., and funded by Eli Lilly and Co.
Much of the public has never heard of sepsis, even though about 750,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, researchers say. Many medical problems give rise to sepsis, including pneumonia, trauma, surgical complications and cancer.
Sepsis, a bacterial infection of the bloodstream, sets off a chain of chemical reactions that lead to excessive inflammation and clotting. It often causes death by destroying a patient's internal organs.
The new drug is derived from a natural blood product known as activated protein C. In the blood, activated protein C curbs inflammation and clotting.
Sepsis patients are currently treated with antibiotics, fluids and ventilators for lung failure. But no existing treatment directly attacks the blood infection. Dr. Richard Goodman, a University of Washington researcher who has studied sepsis, said the new drug "gives us a new bullet to shoot at this disease."