Could a medication for rheumatoid arthritis also be used to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria? A new study shows auranofin may be able to treat tuberculosis and MRSA.

An FDA-approved drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may also be effective as a line of defense against infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Drug-resistant infections strike 2 million Americans every year and kill 23,000.

A new screening of various drug compounds has identified auranofin (Ridaura) as a potential way to fend off tuberculosis and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Auranofin has bactericidal properties, meaning that it kills bacteria, particularly the dangerous bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The screening also showed that auranofin increased survival rates for mice infected with MRSA.

These two findings indicate auronofin, long used to treat RA, could also eventually be used to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Researchers say it’s exciting news for patients living with a drug-resistant infection.

“The fact that auranofin is an approved and off-patent drug means that it could provide a more rapid and cost-effective route for the compound into clinical trials and, if successful, to patients,” the study authors wrote in their report.

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The study, authoredby Michael B. Harbut of the California Institute for Biomedical Research in La Jolla and others, was released today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If auranofin indeed works to treat MRSA, many people will find relief. About 2 in 100 people in the United States are infected with MRSA, and some of these cases can be fatal, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Tuberculosis, though not as prevalent in the United States, can still be deadly and is a major public health issue in other parts of the world. The CDC estimates one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB.

Auranofin is a gold compound taken orally by people with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. The medication has been on the market to treat RA for decades, but it is rarely prescribed today, since newer, more effective medications with fewer side effects have become available.

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