The first new drug in more than 50 years to tackle the deadly C.diff stomach bug goes on sale today.
It is hoped that Dificlir will save some of the 3,000 lives lost annually to the disease. However, it costs £67.50 a tablet, so hospitals may opt to reserve it for the most severely ill.
Studies have shown that the twice-a-day treatment is just as good as existing drugs at treating the initial infection.
But, crucially, it halves the odds of already-weakened patients relapsing. Relapses affect a quarter or so of the 27,000 C.diff patients treated each year and cost the NHS up to £10,000 a time. They are fatal up to 10 per cent of the time.
Dificlir, made by Japanese firm Astellas, stops the bug producing the poisons that wreak havoc in the gut. It also prevents it from making the spores that help its spread.
Using the new drug should spare 10 in every 100 patients from the pain and indignity of relapsing, said Robert Masterson, a superbug expert from the University of the West of Scotland.
He added that while hygiene drives have led to a fall in the number of C.diff cases in recent years, there is no room for complacency.
Graziella Kontkowski, founder of the patient group c-diff support (CORR), said she hoped better treatment would save lives.
She said that the bug, which thrives in filthy conditions, affects the young and old, and added: ‘I would like to hope that with this new treatment, recurrences of Cdiff will soon be a thing of the past.’
Official guidance on NHS use is due in the next few weeks.
Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) are bacteria that are present naturally in the gut of around two-thirds of children and 3% of adults.
C. difficile does not cause any problems in healthy people. However, some antibiotics that are used to treat other health conditions can interfere with the balance of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut. When this happens, C. difficile bacteria can multiply and produce toxins (poisons), which cause illness such as diarrhoea and fever