The latest development in treating stubborn cases of Clostridium difficile infections (CDI) are "poop pills" - pills that patients can easily swallow rather than having to go through a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). The "poop pills" are filled with blenderized fecal matter from healthy donors, are much easier for patients to swallow, and they successfully treat C. difficile at almost the same rate as fecal microbiota transplants - about 91% after 1 or 2 treatments for the pills, and 93 to 96% for FMT. This is an amazing success rate for an infection that debilitates people, is resistant to antibiotics in many cases, and even kills people.
Interestingly, these "poop pills" or "Capsule FMT" containing an entire microbiome (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc) had fantastic results, as compared to a probiotic for the treatment of C. difficile tested by microbiome therapeutics company Seres Therapeutics Inc. In July 2016 Seres announced very disappointing results (no better than a placebo) with its product known as SER-109, a mix of various strains of bacteria.
So why did the Seres probiotic not work in clinical trails? The answer seems to be that the human gut (and so also human fecal matter) contains an entire community of microbes - hundreds of species of bacteria, as well as fungi, viruses, and archaea, but the Seres probiotic was just a mixture of some types of bacteria. This shows how little we know right now. (NOTE: For those interested, the "poop pills" or Capsule FMT is now offered as standard care for recurrent CDI at Massachusetts General Hospital.) From BioMedCentral:
Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has been shown to be safe and effective in treating refractory or relapsing C. difficile infection (CDI), but its use has been limited by practical barriers. We recently reported a small preliminary feasibility study using orally administered frozen fecal capsules. Following these early results, we now report our clinical experience in a large cohort with structured follow-up. We prospectively followed a cohort of patients with recurrent or refractory CDI who were treated with frozen, encapsulated FMT at our institution. The primary endpoint was defined as clinical resolution whilst off antibiotics for CDI at 8 weeks after last capsule ingestion. Safety was defined as any FMT-related adverse event grade 2 or above.
Overall, 180 patients aged 7–95 years with a minimal follow-up of 8 weeks were included in the analysis. CDI resolved in 82 % of patients after a single treatment, rising to a 91 % cure rate with two treatments. Three adverse events Grade 2 or above, deemed related or possibly related to FMT, were observed. We confirm the effectiveness and safety of oral administration of frozen encapsulated fecal material, prepared from unrelated donors, in treating recurrent CDI. Randomized studies and FMT registries are still needed to ascertain long-term safety.
The epidemiology of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is evolving. Rates of infection are increasing and response to standard antimicrobial treatment with metronidazole or vancomycin may be suboptimal [1, 2].....Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) has been shown to be safe and effective in treating refractory or relapsing CDI [4, 5, 6, 7, 8], but its use has been limited by practical barriers. Among other concerns, the administration of FMT by colonoscope or naso-gastric/duodenal tube exposes the patient to some risk and discomfort. We recently reported a preliminary feasibility study using orally administered frozen fecal capsules, prepared from unrelated donors, to treat 20 patients with recurrent CDI . Following these encouraging results, we have continued treating patients with FMT capsules. We report our clinical experience in a large cohort with structured follow-up.
Donated fecal matter was blenderized, sieved, centrifuged, and suspended in concentrated form in sterile saline with 10 % glycerol. The suspension was double-encapsulated in hypromellose capsules (Capsugel, Cambridge, MA) and stored at –80 °C for up to 6 months pending use. Processing was done entirely under ambient air. FMT recipients discontinued any anti-CDI treatment for 24–48 hours prior to FMT, and were given 15 capsules on each of two consecutive days with water or apple sauce. The 30 capsules contained sieved, concentrated material derived from a mean of 48 g of fecal matter.
Of the 180 patients reaching 8 weeks, 147 were cured of CDI after the first administration of fecal capsules (82 %). Twenty six individuals relapsed within 8 weeks and were re-treated, with 17 responding, resulting in an overall cure rate of 91 % with one or two treatments. Six individuals declined re-treatment (our standard procedure in these cases is to offer long-term suppressive oral vancomycin treatment). Three patients were cured after a third administration, but were considered “non-responders” as per protocol definition. One patient received three treatments, relapsed, and was advised to continue suppressive vancomycin.