Research Foundation News

August 21, 2017

Purdue scientist receives $1.6 million grant on repurposed drugs as treatment

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. _ A Purdue University researcher has been awarded a $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further study whether two FDA-approved drugs can be repurposed to treat life-threatening drug-resistant bacteria.

Mohamed Seleem, an associate professor of microbiology in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will lead the research team.

“There is an urgent need for antimicrobial drugs to treat superficial and invasive infections because of the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Seleem said.

The World Health Organization has compared the rising number of drug-resistant infections to a “slow-motion tsunami” that has the potential to kill millions and undermine the global economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports at least 2 million people a year in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Two of those bacteria are Clostridium difficile, which the agency has characterized as an urgent concern, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which the CDC calls a serious threat.

Clostridium difficile is a life-threatening diarrhea that the CDC says infects almost a half million people a year in the United States and kills 15,000. It often strikes people who are hospitalized or have recently been hospitalized. MRSA causes illnesses ranging from skin and wound infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections that hit more than 80,000 people a year and kills more than 11,000.

The NIH funding will focus on repurposing one approved drug, auranofin, and one clinical molecule, ebselen. Initial tests show ebselen, which doesn’t yet have a proven use, is effective against MRSA, while auranofin, approved by the Food and Drug Administration for long-term treatment of unresponsive rheumatoid arthritis, is effective against Clostridium difficile.

Preliminary testing has shown ebselen and auranofin has been more effective than the current drug of choice, vancomycin, for both bacteria, Seleem said. The two drugs also reduce the excessive immune response of the host, reduce the toxins secreted by the bacteria and protect the host tissues from the damage of the bacterial toxins.

Seleem previously received startup and university grants to purchase about 4,000 out-of-patent drugs to screen to see if they can be repurposed as antimicrobials. Seleem said the advantage of using existing drugs is they have already been deemed safe for humans and don’t require the time-consuming, costly and high-risk venture usually associated with drug development.

“It can take 15 years or longer to move a new drug through the approval pipelines,” Seleem said. “The solution is to find drugs that we already know are safe.”

About 30 percent of drugs approved by the FDA are repurposed, but no drug has ever been repurposed as an antibacterial, Seleem said.

Several out-of-patent drugs Seleem and his team have tested have shown to be effective against other drug-resistant bacteria. He is hoping to submit grant requests for those.

“I am hoping pharmaceutical companies will allow us access to test some of the 6,000 clinical molecules still under patents to see if some of those could be used against drug-resistant bacteria as well,” he said.

Seleem’s innovation is patented through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Tom Coyne, 765-588-1044 

Source:  Mohamed Seleem, 765-494-0763, 

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