New Antibiotic may treat “superbugs”

Microscope - 5Bacterial infections are hard to fight. It’s not just that there are superbugs which resist antibiotics, like MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)  – it is that the methods for finding effective antibiotics aren’t very efficient.

“The compound is highly potent against a broad range of Gram-positive microbes, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE),” the company said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than two million people are infected by drug-resistant germs each year, and 23,000 die of their infections. The biggest killer by far in the U.S. is diarrhea-causing C. difficile.

However, scientists have developed a technique that harnesses environmental bacteria to find antimicrobial weapons much more quickly. Their approach uses a mix of moistened soil, liquid agar (bacterial culture) and diluted bacterial samples to isolate microbes for study while giving them the natural conditions they need to grow. At least in theory, medical researchers no longer have to limit their antibiotic development to bacteria that survive in lab conditions. If it grows in dirt, it’s a candidate.

The team behind the new method has already produced a very promising antibiotic, teixobactin.

It not only kills certain kinds of harmful bacteria (namely those with cellular walls, like anthrax and tuberculosis), but makes it difficult for those bugs to evolve resistance. It’ll be a while before teixobactin is a practical treatment, and it won’t be useful in many other circumstances. But that’s almost beside the point — thanks to the new research technique, it’s no longer far fetched to think that humans can stay one step ahead of sickness-inducing organisms.

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