A team of scientists in San Diego, Ca. have developed a new tool to fight against “superbugs” by re-engineering a decades-old antibiotic, but availability is likely years away.
Vancomycin is a drug which has been used for 60 years as an antibiotic of last resort, for cases when treatment with antibiotics has failed. But some infections have become resistant even to vancomycin in its current form.
Now a research team from The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California has modified vancomycin to come up with a new drug they described as “magical” in its strength. The next step, clinical trials needed to turn the lab discovery into a mass-produced medicine, could take years to complete but the discovery has prompted optimism in the battle against bacteria such as Enterococci, which is found in hospitals and can cause dangerous wound and blood infections.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that the modification gives vancomycin a 1,000-times increase in strength meaning doctors could far use less of it to fight infection. The new drug also works to prevent a bacteria from becoming resistant. Dale Boger, who led the research and is co-chair of The Scripps Research Institute’s chemistry department says “Organisms just can’t simultaneously work to find a way around three independent mechanisms of action.”
The resistance to modern antibiotic drugs has been rising to dangerously high levels around the world in recent years, making the ability to treat common infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and others a losing battle. The new finding presents another option for treating really serious invasive infections.
While the new drug provides much hope it’s not going to cure antibiotic resistance. In the UK, each year more than 12,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections. In the US, the latest numbers are upwards of 23.000 each year. Still, the modification of vancomycin is seen as a breakthrough in the fight against resistant bacteria and may pose a model for fighting much more resistant superbugs.