Newly-discovered compound gives hope in fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Scientists have discovered a compound that neither Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (pictured) nor Mycobacterium tuberculosis are resistant to (Image: Shutterstock)

Over the past quarter century, many pharmaceutical companies have largely turned their backs on the quest to develop new antibiotics, blaming difficulties surrounding the clinical trials process and turning their attention to the more profitable development of so-called "lifestyle drugs." One company bucking the trend is NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals, which has announced the discovery of a new class of antibiotic that holds promise for treating drug-resistant superbugs.

It's no secret that the over prescription and overuse of existing antibiotics has led to the increasing emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens, with the World Health Organisation warning of an impending "post-antibiotic era" where common infections will once again pose the risk of death, as was the case before the discovery of the first antibiotics in the early 20th Century.

As a result, we've seen various research efforts that take a non-antibiotic approach to bacterial infection, such as "ninja polymers" and artificial nanoparticles made of lipids. But this latest breakthrough by researchers from NovoBiotic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Northeastern University in Boston, the University of Bonn in Germany, and Selcia Limited in the UK, shows that antibiotics are still in the fight.

The compound is called teixobactin and was discovered using a device called the iChip, which is a miniature device that can isolate and help grow single cells of uncultured bacteria in their natural environment. This is highly beneficial as, although the screening of soil microorganisms is responsible for the discovery of most antibiotics, only around 1 percent of them will grow in the lab.

After the compound was discovered, the researchers tested it and found that neither Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) nor Mycobacterium tuberculosis were resistant to the compound, with teixobactin found to inhibit bacterial cell wall synthesis by binding to two cell wall components (lipid II and lipid III). The team now hopes to develop teixobactin into a drug.

"Our impression is that nature produced a compound that evolved to be free of resistance," says Northeastern University Distinguished Professor Kim Lewis, lead author of the paper outlining the discovery. "This challenges the dogma that we’ve operated under that bacteria will always develop resistance. Well, maybe not in this case."

The team's paper was published this week in the journal Nature.

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