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A high-throughput phenotypic screen identifies clofazimine as a potential treatment for cryptosporidiosis.

Cryptosporidiosis has emerged as a leading cause of non-viral diarrhea in children under five years of age in the developing world, yet the current standard of care to treat Cryptosporidium infections, nitazoxanide, demonstrates limited and immune-dependent efficacy. Given the lack of treatments with universal efficacy, drug discovery efforts against cryptosporidiosis are necessary to find therapeutics more efficacious than the standard of care. To date, cryptosporidiosis drug discovery efforts have been limited to a few targeted mechanisms in the parasite and whole cell phenotypic screens against small, focused collections of compounds. Using a previous screen as a basis, we initiated the largest known drug discovery effort to identify novel anticryptosporidial agents. A high-content imaging assay for inhibitors of Cryptosporidium parvum proliferation within a human intestinal epithelial cell line was miniaturized and automated to enable high-throughput phenotypic screening against a large, diverse library of small molecules. A screen of 78,942 compounds identified 12 anticryptosporidial hits with sub-micromolar activity, including clofazimine, an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of leprosy, which demonstrated potent and selective in vitro activity (EC50 = 15 nM) against C. parvum. Clofazimine also displayed activity against C. hominis-the other most clinically-relevant species of Cryptosporidium. Importantly, clofazimine is known to accumulate within epithelial cells of the small intestine, the primary site of Cryptosporidium infection. In a mouse model of acute cryptosporidiosis, a once daily dosage regimen for three consecutive days or a single high dose resulted in reduction of oocyst shedding below the limit detectable by flow cytometry. Recently, a target product profile (TPP) for an anticryptosporidial compound was proposed by Huston et al. and highlights the need for a short dosing regimen (< 7 days) and formulations for children < 2 years. Clofazimine has a long history of use and has demonstrated a good safety profile for a disease that requires chronic dosing for a period of time ranging 3-36 months. These results, taken with clofazimine's status as an FDA-approved drug with over four decades of use for the treatment of leprosy, support the continued investigation of clofazimine both as a new chemical tool for understanding cryptosporidium biology and a potential new treatment of cryptosporidiosis.

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