The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a group of researchers $2.87 million for preclinical development of an oral drug to treat Shigella and C. difficile.

Shigella is a bacterium that belongs to a small group of pathogens (including E. coli O157:H7 and Cryptosporidium) that can infect the gut after the ingestion of relatively few organisms, and can cause sudden and severe diarrhea (gastroenteritis) in humans. About 25,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of shigellosis are reported each year in the U.S. Many cases go undiagnosed and/or unreported, however, and the CDC estimates that 450,000 total cases of shigellosis occur in the United States every year.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a spore-forming, gram-positive anaerobic bacillus that produces two toxins: toxin A and toxin B. These toxins typically cause gastrointestinal disease, often with severe complications.

The new research will focus on Ceragenin™ technology, which is a class of antimicrobial compounds that mimic functions of the body’s own innate immune system. The technology was invented by Paul B. Savage, Ph.D., professor at BYU.