Antibiotic Could Be Used As A ‘Last Line Of Defence’ Against Superbugs To Save Millions Of Lives From Drug-Resistant Infections, Study Suggests

Updated at 2202 EAT on 29th March 2022.

What you need to know?

  • Scientists developed a new synthetic version of an antibiotic called teixobactin
  • Teixobactin, found in the US in 2015, is the most promising antibiotic in decades 
  • It is hoped it could help beat superbugs which are resistant to existing drugs 
  • UK experts made a version cheaper to produce which could be mass produced

A ‘game-changing’ antibiotic could save millions of lives lost to superbugs worldwide each year, a study suggests.

In a breakthrough, British scientists have developed synthetic versions of the compound teixobactin — the first new antibiotic discovered in decades.

The man-made drugs were able to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria in mice without harming healthy tissue in research led by the University of Liverpool. 

Teixobactin was originally discovered in 2015 after being extracted from a field in Maine in the US, in what was hailed as a watershed moment in the growing fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

But its roll out has been held back because the natural compound is expensive and difficult to produce.  

The team in Liverpool were able to reproduce teixobactin synthetically, keeping the same superbug-busting properties of the original while costing 2,000 time less.

It successfully eradicated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a superbug known as MRSA, which is resistant to several widely used antibiotics — in mice.

The researchers were also able to destroy a wide range of microbes taken from human patients.

They hope the drug will in the future be used as a ‘last line of defence’ against drug-resistant superbugs, estimated to kill or contribute to nearly 7million deaths a year.

A graphic of Staphylococcus aureus a drug resistant superbug that could once again become easily treatable through a new version of the antibiotic teixobactin created by UK scientists

Superbugs are bacteria that have evolved a resistance to antibiotics due to the drugs being overprescribed or incorrectly used, a phenomena called antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The rise of superbugs has stoked fears from scientists that we are approaching a post-antibiotic era where common conditions and medical operations become more dangerous as patients succumb to previously treatable bacterial infections. 

But scientists involved in the latest study say patients in the future may be treated with just one dose of teixobactin per day for systemic life-threatening resistant bacterial infections.

Synthetic teixobactin can also be kept at room temperature, making global distribution easier by eliminating the need for expensive refrigerated storage and transport, the researchers said.

Those leading the project, which was delivered in association with the University of Lincoln, hope the results may pave the way for the drug to be produced cheaply on a large scale. 

Further tests are needed on scaling up the production before safety tests for use in people can be run.

Lead researcher Dr Ishwar Singh, an expert in antimicrobial drugs at Liverpool University, said the breakthrough was a significant step towards unlocking the full medical potential of teixobactin to tackle superbugs.

‘Our ultimate goal is to have a number of viable drugs from our modular synthetic teixobactin platform which can be used as a “last line of defence” against superbugs to save lives currently lost due to AMR,’ he said.

He said the team hoped to eventually get synthetic teixobactin ready for safety testing on humans, which, if successful, could lead to a drug being developed to treat drug resistant bacterial infections worldwide.

Dr Phil Packer, from Innovate UK, the agency which delivered the latest project, said the results had been ‘excellent’. 

‘We are delighted with results, which have validated synthetic teixobactin’s promise to tackle resistant bacterial infections when currently used antibiotics fails. We look forward to following this journey closely in future,’ he said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘It is fantastic to see such innovative work like this happening in the UK – another clear example of this country being at the forefront of scientific advancements which can benefit people across the world.’

An AMR review commissioned by the UK Government has predicted that an extra 10million people will succumb to drug-resistant infections each year by 2050.

Covid is also thought to be speeding up the global threat of antimicrobial resistance through the inappropriate use of antibiotics which do not work against viruses.

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