One of the biggest concerns in the health care industry today is the increasing presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases that could ultimately cause epidemics. In turn, the field of pharmacy technology has faced a massive challenge of trying to make advancements in antibiotics so that they can fend off these superbugs.
Few developments have occurred in this area in recent history, which has caused fear that antibiotic advancements may not come fast enough. However, a new study, the findings of which are published in the journal Nature, points to a new class of antibiotic discovered in dirt from Maine by U.S. scientists.
While this antibiotic won’t be available for human use anytime soon, it potentially could be a major breakthrough in fighting off gram-positive bacteria such as staph, strep and TB, according to the Washington Post.1
However, utilizing this antibiotic intelligently comes along with a whole new set of challenges. Essentially, bacteria will always eventually get strong enough to resist an antibiotic, and therefore widespread release of this new drug could effectively put a shorter shelf life on it. That is to say, many scientists believe the new antibiotic should only be utilized in extreme situations in order to ensure that it remains a cure for as long as possible. Considering the rarity of such discoveries in this field, this antibiotic will need to remain viable for as long as possible.
Led by Northeastern University professor and NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals start-up co-founder Kim Lewis, the research team grew 10,000 types of bacterium in soil samples, then focused on each bacterium’s ability to kill staph infection. One organism did a particularly good job of killing staph, and was then turned into a drug the team has named teixobactin.2 The team began research by developing a method of cultivating uncultured organisms – i.e., organisms that do not grow in a laboratory environment – in their natural habitats. This led them to the discovery of teixobactin, a cell wall inhibitor that could prove pivotal in fighting off infections caused by gram-positive bacteria.
The team quickly found that the drug can fight off a wide range of infections beyond staph, including C-diff and anthrax.2 Moreover, teixobactin effectively fight strains of bacteria that have become resistant to other antibiotics such as penicillin. However, on the other hand, the team also found that teixobactin has no effect against gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli and gonorrhea.2 Yet, the Washington Post notes that the methods of Lewis and his team could still prove to be much more wide-ranging in the long run. According to the source, this method of searching soil samples has a potential cancer drug and several other promising leads.1
A potential big win for modern medicine
According to the team’s research, 25 new antibiotics have already been discovered using this method.2 While this type of research may lead to a plethora of new discoveries, the issue of resistance continues to loom, especially as tried and true antibiotics such as penicillin become less effective.
All in all, the practical uses of teixobactin are somewhat limited, but it may prove to be integral in fighting off MRSA and other infections once human testing is conducted. Currently, teixobactin has only been tested on animals. As those in the pharm tech industry know, it will take some time to conduct comprehensive human testing and get the antibiotic approved by the FDA and other agencies.
1 “New class of antibiotic found in dirt could prove resistant to resistance,” by Rachel Feltman, Washington Post, january 7, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/01/07/new-class-of-antibiotic-found-in-dirt-could-prove-resistant-to-resistance/
2 “A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance,” by Kim Lewis, etal., Nature, Jan. 7, 2015. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14098.html