Here’s a switch from the normal big pharmaceutical news. Researchers in the United States have discovered a new antibiotic, ending a 25-year drought in the field of antibiotics. The better news? It has the potential to fight through infections that have become resistant to current antibiotics.

The research on the new antibiotic, teixobactin, is published in the January 7 issue of Nature. Researchers, using teixobactin, were able to cure lab mice of MRSA, a bacterial infection that sickens 80,000 Americans each year and kills 11,000.

In addition to combating MRSA, researchers were able to use the drug to combat pneumococcal pneumonia. In culture tests, teixobactin proved useful in killing drug-resistant strains of anthrax, Clostridium difficile and tuberculosis.

The antibiotic is so promising, researchers believe the drug will be in clinical trials soon. “My estimate is that we will probably be in clinical trials three years from now,” said the study’s senior author, Kim Lewis, director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University in Boston.

Finding New Antibiotics

After the golden age of antibiotics in the 1960s, finding new ones in nature has been difficult at best. Synthetic antibiotics lacked the potency, and finding the microorganisms in nature that could grow in laboratories was a roll of the dice. About 1% of microorganisms found in dirt could be used in a laboratory setting to develop antibiotics.

Lewis and the team found a way to trick the bacteria into growing in soil samples in a laboratory. From those samples, researchers are able to transfer the colonies of bacteria into a lab for further tests.

“Essentially, we’re tricking the bacteria,” he said. “They don’t know that something’s happened to them, so they start growing and forming colonies.”

The new antibiotics cannot hit the market soon enough.

Concern among health officials is stark. In the United States alone, two million people develop infections that are drug-resistant. First and second-line antibiotics are quickly found to be useless, forcing doctors to use potentially lethal, more expensive drugs.

Teixobactin’s mechanism is similar to vancomycin. It attacks through thin cell walls, causing the bacteria to breakdown. In addition, teixobactin attacks multiple cell processes at the same time. Researchers are hoping this can prevent diseases from building up resistance to the drug.

Even if resistance does appear, the timeframe is measured in decades. Also, doctors are more keen on reigning in blanket antibiotic prescriptions for any symptom. That in itself will keep new antibiotics from falling to the same fate as current generation drugs.

The full study is published in the latest issue of Nature.


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