Fighting Superbugs With Supercharged Drugs

Scientists in Australia have developed a method to supercharge antibiotics to turn the tide against some of the world’s toughest superbugs.

AsianScientist (Jan. 11, 2018) – A team of scientists in Australia have modified an old drug to make it effective against antibiotic-resistant microbes, or superbugs. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Superbugs cause 700,000 deaths worldwide each year, and this number has been predicted to increase to 10 million by the year 2050. An old drug, vancomycin, is used to treat complicated bacterial infections, but resistant strains have emerged in recent years.

In this study, a team of researchers led by Dr. Mark Blaskovich and Professor Matt Cooper from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience developed a technique to ‘supercharge’ vancomycin to renew its effectiveness against resistant bacteria strains.

“The rise of vancomycin-resistant bacteria and the number of patients dying from resistant infections that cannot be successfully treated stimulated our team to look at ways to revitalise old antibiotics,” said Blaskovich.

“We did this by modifying vancomycin’s membrane-binding properties to selectively bind to bacterial membranes rather than those of human cells, creating a series of supercharged vancomycin derivatives called vancapticins.”

The rebooted vancomycin has the potential to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci.

Cooper noted that pharmaceutical companies had departed the antibiotic discovery field because new antibiotics were difficult to find and were not as lucrative as cholesterol-lowering medications or cancer treatments.

“Hence many scientists are re-engineering existing drugs to overcome bacterial resistance, rather than searching for new drugs,” said Cooper. “Drug development is normally focused on improving binding to a biological target, and rarely focuses on assessing membrane-binding properties.”

“This approach worked with the vancapticins, and the question now is whether it can be used to revitalize other antibiotics that have lost effectiveness against resistant bacteria,” he added.

Given the alarming rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria and the length of time it takes to develop a new antibiotic, the researchers said that there is an urgent need to look at any solution that could fix the antibiotic drug discovery pipeline .

The article can be found at: Blaskovich et al. (2018) Protein-inspired Antibiotics Active Against Vancomycin- and Daptomycin-resistant Bacteria.


Source: University of Queensland; Photo: Shutterstock.
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