In a “game-changing” breakthrough, scientists say they have successfully tested an antibiotic capable of killing drug-resistant bacteria. This could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drugs in 30 years.
Last fall, researchers at the University of Lincoln announced they had successfully produced two synthetic versions of the naturally occurring antibiotic, teixobactin. First discovered in 2015, the natural form had previously proven successful against antibiotic-resistant pathogens like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant enterococci).
Now, researchers say they have been able to simplify and synthesize a form of teixobactin successfully used to treat a bacterial infection in mice. They say this synthetic form is just as potent at killing “superbugs” as teixobactin in its natural form. The study is published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
By replacing key amino acids at certain points in the antibiotic’s structure, scientists have cut development time from 30 hours to just 10 minutes. This quick turnaround could harness the antibiotic’s effects and allow for commercial production.
This comes at a time when antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – or “superbugs” – continues to rise. Globally, an estimated 700,000 people will die each year after becoming infected with drug-resistant bacteria. By 2050, some suggest as many as 10 million people around the world will die from infections related to superbugs.
Medicines become ineffective and infections persist as microorganisms (like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites) change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs (like antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics). Last year, a Nevada woman died of an incurable infection from Klebsiella pneumoniae that was resistant to all 26 antibiotics available in the US.
Researchers say finding new treatments to use when others are ineffective is a “crucial area of study”.
“We need sophisticated armor to combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens,” said Dr Lakshminarayanan Rajamani from the Singapore Eye Research Institute in a statement. “Drugs that target the fundamental mechanism of bacterial survival, and also reduce the host’s inflammatory responses are the need of the hour.”
It’s important to note the treatment has only been successful in mice, and there is a lot of work to be done to bring it to your local pharmacy. That being said, the team says it offers the “first proof” that a simplified version could be used to treat real bacterial infections and is a step toward creating a commercially viable drug version.
“A significant amount of work remains in the development of teixobactin as a therapeutic antibiotic for human use – we are probably around six to 10 years off a drug that doctors can prescribe to patients – but this is a real step in the right direction and now opens the door for improving our in vivo analogues,” said Dr Ishwar Singh from the University of Lincoln’s School of Pharmacy.
The team says they will continue building on a library of synthetic versions of teixobactin to continue to develop more simplified synthetic versions that can be used in a diverse number of applications.