Antibiotic R&D fell out of favor at Big Pharma companies years ago, chilling a field that only recently has shown signs of heating up with new development projects. But a transatlantic team of investigators electrified the field this week with its claims that a new antibiotic found in dirt was a potent killer of drug-resistant bacteria. And it could represent a new class of badly needed antibiotics that just might avoid the natural resistance that begins to evolve once a new antibiotic hits the market.
The antibiotic, dubbed teixobactin, works by stopping microbes from building cell walls, rather than targeting proteins--an approach that inevitably leads bacteria to develop new proteins that can escape antibiotics. And in mice, at least, it proved a potent antidote to Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Enterococcus.
"Teixobactin inhibits cell wall synthesis by binding to a highly conserved motif of lipid II (precursor of peptidoglycan) and lipid III (precursor of cell wall teichoic acid)," the researchers reported in Nature. "We did not obtain any mutants of Staphylococcus aureus or Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistant to teixobactin. The properties of this compound suggest a path towards developing antibiotics that are likely to avoid development of resistance."
There are limitations. This new antibiotic only works against gram-positive bacteria, not gram-negative. And while the news of the advance spawned headlines around the world as public health officials grapple with the threat of drug-resistant bacteria, the work has to be carried forward into humans to prove its potential.
"What most excites me is the tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg," University of Edinburgh Professor Mark Woolhouse tells The Guardian. "It may be that we will find more, perhaps many more, antibiotics using these latest techniques."