Treatment of Mycobacterium ulcerans disease, or Buruli ulcer (BU), has shifted from surgery to treatment with streptomycin(STR)+rifampin(RIF) since 2004 based on studies in a mouse model and clinical trials. We tested two entirely oral regimens for BU treatment, rifampin(RIF)+clarithromycin(CLR) and rifapentine(RPT)+clarithromycin(CLR) in the mouse model.
BALB/c mice were infected in the right hind footpad with M. ulcerans strain 1059 and treated daily (5 days/week) for 4 weeks, beginning 11 days after infection. Treatment groups included an untreated control, STR+RIF as a positive control, and test regimens of RIF, RPT, STR and CLR given alone and the RIF+CLR and RPT+CLR combinations. The relative efficacy of the drug treatments was compared on the basis of footpad CFU counts and median time to footpad swelling. Except for CLR, which was bacteriostatic, treatment with all other drugs reduced CFU counts by approximately 2 or 3 log10. Median time to footpad swelling after infection was 5.5, 16, 17, 23.5 and 36.5 weeks in mice receiving no treatment, CLR alone, RIF+CLR, RIF alone, and STR alone, respectively. At the end of follow-up, 39 weeks after infection, only 48%, 26.4% and 16.3% of mice treated with RPT+CLR, RPT alone and STR+RIF had developed swollen footpads. An in vitro checkerboard assay showed the interaction of CLR and RIF to be indifferent. However, in mice, co-administration with CLR resulted in a roughly 25% decrease in the maximal serum concentration (Cmax) and area under the serum concentration-time curve (AUC) of each rifamycin. Delaying the administration of CLR by one hour restored Cmax and AUC values of RIF to levels obtained with RIF alone.
These results suggest that an entirely oral daily regimen of RPT+CLR may be at least as effective as the currently recommended combination of injected STR+oral RIF.
Buruli ulcer (BU) is found throughout the world but is particularly prevalent in West Africa. Until 2004, treatment for this disfiguring disease was surgical excision followed by skin grafting, procedures often requiring months of hospitalization. More recently, an 8-week regimen of oral rifampin and streptomycin administered by injection has become the standard of care recommended by the World Health Organization. However, daily injections require sterile needles and syringes to prevent spread of blood borne pathogens and streptomycin has potentially serious side effects, most notably hearing loss. We tested an entirely oral regimen, substituting the long acting rifapentine for rifampin and clarithromycin for streptomycin. We also evaluated each drug separately. We found that rifapentine alone is as good as rifampin plus streptomycin, but the simultaneous addition of effective clarithromycin doses, at least in the mouse, reduces the activity of both rifampin and rifapentine, making it difficult to assess the efficacy of the oral regimens in the model. Studies of serum drug concentrations indicated that separating treatment times by one hour or reducing the clarithromycin dose to one active in humans should overcome this issue in experimental and clinical BU treatment, respectively.