The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Xifaxan for patients with advanced liver disease to reduce the risk of overt hepatic encephalopathy (HE).

HE is a reduction of brain function that can occur in people whose liver can no longer remove toxins from the blood, and is thought to be caused by increased levels of ammonia in the blood.

Xifaxan, which is marketed by Salix Pharmaceuticals and works by reducing ammonia levels, has been successfully tested in a randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial of adult patients.

The drug has not yet been studied in patients with the most severe forms of liver disease as a stand-alone treatment for HE.

Already approved by the FDA for the treatment of traveller’s diarrhoea, Xifaxan had been granted orphan designation status.