Is the end of superbugs in sight? New drug can fight 300 different types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- New drug appears to kill resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia and UTIs
- Infections are usually almost impossible to treat due to antibiotic resistance
- Researchers say the drug could one day be used to treat infections in humans
Scientists have developed a drug that they hope can lead the fight against superbugs.
Fabimycin – a man-made antibiotic – was found to kill hundreds of bacteria that are resistant to common drugs.
Superbugs are estimated to contribute to around 7 million deaths a year, with some experts warning they should be taken as seriously as global warming.
They have developed a resistance to common antibiotics due to the drugs being over-prescribed or misused, known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The study found that fabimycin eliminated drug-resistant pneumonia and urinary tract infections (UTIs) in mice.
Further research in a laboratory setting showed that the drug was also effective against 300 other strains of superbugs.
Researchers said the findings could pave the way for treating stubborn infections in humans.
Researchers found that fabimycin – a yet-to-be-approved antibiotic – works against infections caused by 300 types of gram-negative bacteria (photo)
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotics have been needlessly dispensed by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once-harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned that if nothing is done, the world will enter a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It argued that common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug-resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or when they are dispensed unnecessarily.
Former medical officer Dame Sally Davies argued in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as bad as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people die annually from drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria worldwide.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be returned to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are made ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing medicines that are becoming less effective, only one or two new antibiotics have been developed in the last 30 years.
In 2019, the WHO warned that antibiotics were ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.
Millions of people worldwide are infected by gram-negative bacteria – including E. coli – every year. They are behind 75 percent of global drug-resistant deaths.
Rising superbug rates have raised fears that common conditions and medical operations could become more dangerous as patients succumb to previously treatable bacterial infections.
The latest study, published in the scientific journal ACS Central Sciencewas led by researchers from the University of Illinois.
They used an existing antibiotic called Debio-1452, which is in phase 2 clinical trials in the US for use against staph bacteria. The bugs cause skin infections, blood poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.
Researchers have modified the drug to create 14 different versions in a bid to make it against superbugs.
It was tested against 10 different bacteria in mice, including E. coli – which can cause UTIs, as well as stomach bugs – and K. pneumoniae, which can cause lung infections and pneumonia.
One of the tweaked versions of Debio-1452, called fabimycin, was the only candidate that stopped all bacterial types from multiplying in the experiments. So researchers took it to the next phase of trials.
It was tested against non-harmful human bacteria and was shown not to kill it, suggesting that the antibiotic would not harm humans if taken in human tests.
Probiotics – known as ‘friendly bacteria’ – help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut, which is essential for digestion.
Researchers then tested fabimycin against 300 more strains of harmful bacteria, and it was found to kill all of them.
Writing in the paper, the authors said: ‘Urinary tract infections represent one of the greatest risks for healthy individuals in terms of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria with many individuals contracting one in their lifetime.
‘UTIs caused by gram-negative pathogens, especially those that are drug-resistant, are becoming more common and remain a major clinical challenge.
‘Fabimycin has translational promise, and its discovery provides additional evidence that antibiotics can be systematically adapted to accumulate in gram-negative bacteria and kill these problematic pathogens.’
About 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections are now thought to occur each year in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This leads to approximately 35,900 deaths from these diseases in the US, up half from the 23,000 estimated in 2013.
Around 61,000 antibiotic-resistant infections occurred in England in 2018, according to latest estimates from health chiefs. But it is unclear how many deaths these have caused.
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