Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is a spore forming and toxin producing rod-shaped bacterium that is classified as a category A bioterror agent. This pathogenic microbe can be transmitted to both animals and humans. Clinical presentation depends on the route of entry (direct contact, ingestion, injection or aerosolization) with symptoms ranging from isolated skin infections to more severe manifestations such as cardiac or pulmonary shock, meningitis, and death. To date, anthrax is treatable if antibiotics are administered promptly and continued for 60 days. However, if treatment is delayed or administered improperly, the patient's chances of survival are decreased drastically. In addition, antibiotics are ineffective against the harmful anthrax toxins and spores. Therefore, alternative therapeutics are essential. In this review article, we explore and discuss advances that have been made in anthrax therapy with a primary focus on alternative pre-approved and novel antibiotics as well as anti-toxin therapies.
A literature search was conducted using the University of Manitoba search engine. Using this search engine allowed access to a greater variety of journals/articles that would have otherwise been restricted for general use. In order to be considered for discussion for this review, all articles must have been published later than 2009.
The alternative pre-approved antibiotics demonstrated high efficacy against B. anthracis both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, the safety profile and clinical pharmacology of these drugs were already known. Compounds that targeted underexploited bacterial processes (DNA replication, RNA synthesis, and cell division) were also very effective in combatting B. anthracis. In addition, these novel compounds prevented bacterial resistance. Targeting B. anthracis virulence, more specifically the anthrax toxins, increased the length of which treatment could be administered.
Several novel and pre-existing antibiotics, as well as toxin inhibitors, have shown increasing promise. A combination treatment that targets both bacterial growth and toxin production would be ideal and probably necessary for effectively combatting this armed bacterium.