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Researchers find source of body odor; new drug could keep BO at bay

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British scientists believe they're on the path to creating more effective deodorants while a new drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week could help people sweat less and avoid offensive body odor altogether.

Researchers at the University of York and University of Oxford reported they have pinpointed the molecular process by which armpit bacteria produces the lead component causing body odor, or BO. The findings, published Monday in the journal eLife, show promise in developing more effective deodorants with targeted active ingredients.

On Friday, drugmaker Dermira said the FDA approved the drug Qbrexza for primary axillary hyperhidrosis, which is excessive underarm sweating. Qbrexza, which is applied directly to the skin, is designed to block sweat production by inhibiting sweat gland activation.

"The skin of our underarms provides a unique niche for bacteria," co-author Dr. Gavin Thomas, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said in a press release. "Through the secretions of various glands that open onto the skin or into hair follicles, this environment is nutrient-rich and hosts its own microbial community, the armpit microbiome, of many species of different microbes.

Although researchers have known for years that microbes play a role in the production of BO, scientists at York recently discovered a small number of species of Staphylococcus bacteria are responsible for the formation of the most pungent component in the pits.

Researchers didn't known about the process by which these bacteria to take up odorless compounds -- secreted into underarms when we sweat -- and convert them into the smelly chemicals.

They identified a molecule, which is known as a "transport" protein, that allows bacteria to recognize and swallow up the odorless compounds.

Researchers crystallized the molecules at the University of Oxford.

"Modern deodorants work by inhibiting or killing many of the bacteria present our underarms in order to prevent BO," Thomas said. "This study, along with our previous research revealing that only a small number of the bacteria in our armpits are actually responsible for bad smells, could result in the development of more targeted products that aim to inhibit the transport protein and block the production of BO."

Dermira developed a compound to treat excessive sweating -- the California-based company's first drug approved by the FDA. Although the exact cause is unknown, hyperhidrosis affects 7.8 million people, including 4 million in the arms -- known as axillary, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For years, dermatologists have been telling us of the need for new treatment options that address primary axillary hyperhidrosis given the stigma and burden associated with this condition," said Tom Wiggans, chairman and chief executive officer at Dermira, said in a press release. "From the start, our goal was to develop an approach that went beyond masking a person's excessive underarm sweating and instead focused on treating the condition in a clinically meaningful way."

The FDA approved the drug after two Phase 3 clinical trials, ATMOS-1 and ATMOS-2.

The most common local skin reactions were erythema, burning/stinging and pruritus.

The company expects Qbrexza to be available nationwide in pharmacies beginning in October.
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