Scientists Have Developed a New Antibiotic That Works Against Resistant Strains of Bacteria
Researchers have developed a new antibiotic that successfully fights antibiotic-resistant strains of common bacteria when tested in infected human cells. The development comes amid rising cases of multidrug-resistant infections globally due to the Covid19 pandemic, which has increased hospitalizations and left more people vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
India, already a dubious leader in multidrug-resistant infections before the pandemic emerged in early 2020, has seen a spurt of multidrug-resistant fungal infections over the past year. Public health experts have warned global leaders not to let the Covid19 pandemic overshadow the longer-running antibiotic resistance pandemic, which is only getting worse. “… by 2050, antibiotic-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths each year and can cause damage to the economy so catastrophic that, by 2030, antimicrobial resistance could force up to 24 million people into extreme poverty,” predict the authors of a 2020 paper published in The Lancet.
The new antibiotic, developed by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, is a type of pleuromutilin, a class of antibiotics used for decades to treat animals. Since 2007, however, when the first pleuromutilin-based antibiotic was approved for humans, the class has been a promising line of research and development, not only due to its potential for efficacy but also due to the way it affects bacteria, which slows the pace at which pathogens can develop resistance.
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So far, the new pleuromutilin-based antibiotic has only been tested directly on bacteria and infected human cell lines. In laboratory experiments, it was effective at fighting antibiotic-resistant enterococcus, streptococcus, and staphylococcus bacteria. The next step, researchers say, is to gain approval for animal trials and then clinical trials on humans.
Still, the obstacles between any potential drug and human use don’t end there. Major pharmaceutical companies have historically shied away from throwing their R&D and financial power behind developing new antibiotics, as these short-term medications are not as profitable as, say, long-term drugs to treat chronic conditions. This, combined with the pharma industry’s current focus on Covid19 vaccine development and distribution bodes ill for the new pleuromutilin.
That said, the lessons of the global pharmaceutical hustle to address the viral pandemic might translate into similar action to address the antimicrobial-resistance pandemic once the former is curbed. Let’s just hope it’s not too late.