Dr. Peter Marks, director the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated, “While we support this area of scientific discovery, it’s important to note that fecal microbiota for transplantation does not come without risk,”
Two patients contracted severe infections, and one of them died, from fecal transplants that contained drug-resistant bacteria.
The agency said two patients received donated stool that had not been screened for drug-resistant germs, leading it to halt clinical trials until researchers prove proper testing procedures are in place.
After reports of serious, antibiotic-resistant infections linked to the procedures, the FDA wants “to alert all health care professionals who administer FMT [fecal microbiota transplant] about this potential serious risk so they can inform their patients.” said Dr. Peter Marks, director the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Other samples from the same donor were tested after the patients got sick. The samples were found to harbor the same dangerous germs found in the patients, known as multi-drug-resistant organisms (MDRO). They were E. coli bacteria that produced an enzyme called extended-spectrum beta-lactamase, which makes them resistant to multiple antibiotics. The stool had not been tested for the germs before being given to the patients.
The F.D.A. on Thursday issued a warning to researchers that stool from donors in studies of fecal transplantation should be screened for drug-resistant microbes, and not used if those were present. It is also warning patients that the procedure can be risky, is not approved by the agency and should be used only as a last resort when C. difficile does not respond to standard treatments.
Dr. Marks said the agency was trying to strike a balance between giving patients who need the treatment access to it while also establishing safeguards to protect them from infection. In a statement, he said, “While we support this area of scientific discovery, it’s important to note that fecal microbiota for transplantation does not come without risk.”
Researchers are also looking into the use of fecal transplants to treat chronic gastrointestinal illnesses such as ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome.
The patients received treatment as part of a clinical trial, and the researchers conducting the trial reported the cases as adverse events to the F.D.A., which they are required to do. But the rules governing this kind of experiment prohibit the F.D.A. from revealing details about the treatment or who provided it.