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New antibiotic drug, a game changer in fight against superbugs

Teams of researchers from the U.S., UK and Germany are excited because they have thrown everything they can at the new antibiotic and none of the bacteria have come anywhere near to defeating it. Its walls are so far impenetrable.

Instead, it is the new antibiotic called Teixobactin, which is smashing down the walls of the dangerous new generation of superbacteria. Trials show that it even has the potential to destroy the hospital superbug, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.)

Until now, scientists and medical personnel have been knocking their heads against the walls of an unwinnable war, wherein new superbugs mutate rapidly and get stronger more quickly than any existing antibiotics.

It has become a Sisyphean fight to keep the flag flying — so much so that many scientist and doctors have become resigned to the gloomy perspective that medicine is on its way back to the 20th century, in terms of its ability to treat disease.

An article in the Smithsonian explains,

“The 20th century’s “antibiotic era” introduced a widely successful, targeted effort against disease-causing bacteria. Drugs like penicillin and streptomycin became household names, and millions of people benefited from them.

But widespread use — and misuse, such as patients not taking the drugs properly — meant that bacteria began working overtime to develop resistance to antibiotics. Now some pathogens, including some strains of tuberculosis, are resistant to all available antibiotics. Because resistance can evolve quickly, the high costs of drug development aren’t seen as having long-term value, and fewer new antibiotics are reaching the market.”

“Pathogens are acquiring resistance faster than we can introduce new antibiotics, and this is causing a human health crisis,” says biochemist Kim Lewis of Northeastern University when speaking to the Smithsonian

Fortune points out that, “Drug-resistant infections currently kill about 50,000 people each year in the U.S. and Europe, and that number could reach as high as 10 million deaths by 2050, according to research by the U.K. government.”

Another major barrier to overcoming this relentless assault has been scientists’ inability to grow the natural microbial substances for new drugs from soil bacteria and fungi in the lab. Ninety-nine percent of promising candidates are left uncultured and rotting in unused lab dishes.

However, Lewis and his team have turned the process on its head with a new and novel ideal about growing the missing microbes.

“Instead of trying to figure out the ideal conditions for each and every one of the millions of organisms out there in the environment, to allow them to grow in the lab, we simply grow them in their natural environment where they already have the conditions they need for growth,” he says.

So scientist studied bacteria from a field in Maine, U.S. They found that, in the struggle for food and space, bacteria and funghi manufacture their own natural antibiotics, in order to defend themselves against competitors.

The researchers isolated 10,000 strains of uncultured soil bacteria and made extracts which were then tested against pathogenic bacteria. Of these, 25 proved capable of producing antibiotics usable on humans and one candidate, Teixobactin, stood out as being especially promising.

What makes it different is that Teixobactin can knock out a bacteria’s pernicious lipid molecules. “The antibiotic kills bacteria by blocking fatty molecules that help build cell walls, and so those fatty molecules are not as likely to mutate and make the infection drug-resistant,” says Fortune.

On the other hand, most standard antibiotics target the bacteria’s proteins, and the problem is that because the attack isn’t always one hundred percent effective, it can leave open a door for the genes behind the proteins to mutate, eventually making the bacteria resistant to that antibiotic.

The best of the old antibiotics was vancomycin and it took bacteria 40 years before they could develop resistance to it. The Smithsonian reports that the new Teixobactin compound is considerably more robust and resistant to enemies than even vancomycin.

Teixobactin was first tested on mice suffering with pneumoniae and it proved capable of exterminating the infections without any toxic side effects. According to the Mail Online, it was ‘exceptionally active’ against the deadly C diff stomach bug and “exquisitely active” against germs that damage the heart. It even seems to be effective against TB, suggesting the illness could be treated by a single pill, rather than the large number which people are forced to use now.

Other researchers in the field are describing the new drug in glowing terms. Mail Online quotes Gerard Wright, a Canadian expert, who said “in a field dominated by doom and gloom,” the work “offers hope that innovation and creativity can combine to solve the antibiotics crisis”. Professor Mark Woolhouse, of Edinburgh University, said it is a “tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the iceberg” and Laura Piddock, professor of microbiology at Birmingham University, said the technique could be a ‘game-changer’ for discovering new antibiotics,

Teixobactin could be just the tip of the iceberg. One can only wonder at what other beneficial substances exist among the millions of uncultured bacteria in nature’s soil.

Lewis issued a statement saying, “It’s a tremendous source of new antibiotic compounds.” He continued, “You could imagine all kinds of compounds that could be there and could do all kinds of things. Even apart from antibiotics the compounds you get from soil microorganisms have also been used to develop anti-cancer drugs, immunosuppressants and anti-inflammatories. So really, these bacteria are very good at making antibiotics, but there are definitely many other therapeutics that they can make as well.”

However, Teixobactin has not yet been tested directly on humans. Therefore, it is not available for use right now. Even so, this isn’t just some promising piece of research, which might bear fruit at some unknown time in the future. The drug could be ready for use in injection-form as earlier as 2019.

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