Fresh hope in the hunt for new antibiotics

12 January 2015

Discovery of a potential new antibiotic has been hailed as a ‘game-changer’ for the treatment of bacterial infections.

Researchers led by the Antimicrobial Discovery Center of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts looked at products from soil microbes. They discovered 25 new forms of antibiotic, of which one, teixobactin, is reportedly very promising.

No new antibiotics have been discovered in many years; combined with the apparently relentless rise of antibiotic resistance, this has led to huge concern in recent years. The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, highlighted this issue for urgent attention in 2011, referring to it as a ‘ticking time bomb’ in 2013. The search for new antibiotics forms a key element in governmental strategies to tackle antimicrobial resistance, and was also chosen as the target for the ambitious new Longitude Prize in 2014.

Following on from the news of a potential new antibiotic to treat methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA)  late last year, teixobactin was shown to be toxic to Gram-positive bacteria including MRSA, but not to mammalian cells although it has yet to be tested in human trials. 

Teixobactin is the first member of a new class of lipid binding antibiotics. There is hope that it could prove unusually resistant to the development of bacterial resistance, since it targets essential elements of the bacterial cell wall. Writing in Nature, the researchers note that although resistance could eventually emerge in the form of an antibiotic modifying enzyme, this could take many years as for the similarly rare antibiotic vancomycin.

Lead researcher Prof Kim Lewis, said that the soil bacteria had novel chemistry and were: "a promising source of new antimicrobials and will hopefully help revive the field of antibiotic discovery".

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