Powerful New Antibiotic Could Crush Superbugs

Soil find may be biggest breakthrough in 25 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2015 3:40 AM CST
Updated Jan 8, 2015 6:07 AM CST
Powerful New Antibiotic Could Crush Superbugs
Plates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are seen in the CDC's health-care-associated infections laboratory.   (AP Photo/Center for Disease Control)

Are superbugs about to meet their match? There hasn't been a major new antibiotic discovered in 25 years, but researchers say a drug called teixobactin that has been extracted from dirt in Maine could be the biggest breakthrough in a generation, Fast Company reports. The experimental drug has so far only been tested on mice, but the tests have showed it to be stunningly effective. "Teixobactin kills exceptionally well. It has the ability to rapidly clear infections," says the lead author of a study published in Nature. The drug not only cured mice of staph infections, it attacked multiple targets in a way that will make it tough for bacteria to develop resistance, meaning it could remain effective for decades.

Producing new antibiotics is a slow process: Researchers hope to begin human trials within two years, and if the drug passes all the tests, it could be available in five or six years, reports the New York Times. With antibiotic-resistant superbugs killing hundreds of thousands of people a year worldwide, experts say the breakthrough was desperately needed—and they believe the process used to screen 10,000 soil bacteria for new compounds could yield more discoveries. "What most excites me is the tantalizing prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg," a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh tells the Guardian. "It may be that we will find more, perhaps many more, antibiotics using these latest techniques." (Read more antibiotics stories.)

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