Pneumocystis remains an important cause of fatal pneumonia (PCP) in HIV patients and other immunocompromised hosts. Preclinical drug discovery for agents active against PCP has been hindered in large part by the lack of a continuous in vitro growth system. Since approval in 1978, the combination of the folic acid synthesis inhibitor combination trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole has been the primary agent for prophylaxis and therapy. Short term in vitro assays using cell monolayer-based and cell free systems in combination with in vivo studies in rodent models of infection have been the mainstay of candidate screening methods. These systems and their applications are reviewed here. Most strategies have focused on testing compounds already in clinical use, such as dapsone or atovaquone, for activity against Pneumocystis alone or in combination, and as parent compounds for chemical derivation, such as pentamidine and its analogues. Other successes from the bench include primaquine-clindamycin for moderate pneumonia and the family of Betaglucan synthase inhibitors, which hold promise for clinical use against PCP. Despite the significant obstacles for drug discovery, progress in identifying novel agents has been made with current systems and the promise of future new targets is expected with the annotation of the Pneumocystis genome.
Keywords: Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), drug development, in vitro testing, cell-free systems, in vivo testing, mouse and rat models, treatment and prophylaxis, applicability to humans
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