Massive breakthrough: Scientists create first new antibiotic in nearly 30 years
In a massive breakthrough, scientists have created the first new antibiotic in more than three decades, Teixobactin, that can treat many common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, septicemia and C Diff or clostridium difficile colitis.
The discovery comes at a time when World Health Organization has sent out warnings that humanity is staring at a post-antibiotic era when common infections will no longer have a cure. The first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, and more than 100 compounds have been found since then, but no new class has been found since 1987.
Antibiotics have been magic bullets for human health for decades but irrational use has made most bugs resistant to these. Northeastern University's professor Kim Lewis announced Thursday the discovery of the antibiotic that eliminates pathogens without encountering any detectable resistance.
Lewis and Northeastern biology professor Slava Epstein coauthored the finding with colleagues from the University of Bonn in Germany, Novo Biotic Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Selcia Ltd in the United Kingdom.
Most antibiotics target bacterial proteins, but bugs can become resistant by evolving new kinds of proteins. What's unique about Teixobactin is that it launches a double attack on the building blocks of bacterial cell walls. Experts say this will pave the way for a new generation of antibiotics because of the way it was discovered.
Teixobactin could be available in the next five years. Its testing on mice has shown it clears infections without side-effects. The NU team led by Prof Lewis is now concentrating on upscaling production of Teixobactin to test it on humans.
Northeastern researchers' pioneering work to develop a novel method for growing uncultured bacteria led to the discovery of the antibiotic, and Lewis's lab played a key role in analyzing and testing the compound for resistance from pathogens.
Lewis said this marks the first discovery of an antibiotic to which resistance by mutations of pathogens have not been identified.
"So far, the strategy has been based on developing new antibiotics faster than the pathogens acquire resistance. Teixobactin presents a new opportunity to develop compounds that are essentially free of resistance," Lewis said.
The screening of soil micro-organisms has produced most antibiotics, but only one per cent of these will grow in the lab, Lewis explained. He and Epstein spent years seeking to address this problem by tapping into a new source of antibiotics beyond those created by synthetic means: uncultured bacteria, which make up 99% of all species in external environments.
They developed a novel method for growing uncultured bacteria in their natural environment. Their approach involves the iChip, a miniature device Epstein's team created that can isolate and help grow single cells in their natural environment and provide researchers with much improved access to uncultured bacteria.
"Novo Biotic has assembled about 50,000 strains of uncultured bacteria and discovered 25 new antibiotics, of which Teixobactin is the latest and most interesting," Lewis said.
"Our impression is that nature produced a compound that evolved to be free of resistance," Lewis said. "This challenges the dogma that we've operated under that bacteria will always develop resistance. Well, maybe not in this case."
Britain's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, recently said antibiotic resistant was "as big a risk as terrorism", and warned that Britain faced returning to 19th century scourges when the smallest infection or operations could kill.
WHO said a comprehensive study of antibiotic development, covering innovative, small firms, as well as pharmaceutical giants found that only 15 out of 167 antibiotics under development had a new mechanism of action with the potential to meet the challenge of multidrug resistance.