Synthetic Antibiotics Offers Hope against Super Bacteria
Christian Mc Karthy | On 03, Oct 2018
A lot has changed since Alexander Fleming discovered the first true antibiotic: penicillin. For example, top drug makers are no longer interested in antibiotic development because it is no longer profitable. It costs north of $2 billion to get an antibiotic to the market approval phase and with antibiotics working best when taken a few times as possible, it does not make financial sense. Also, while the number of bacteria on the planet outnumbers humans by more than 3:1, the greatest challenge to defeating bacteria is that our best defences are not as effective as previously. This is because bacteria have outsmarted antibiotics and know the next best move to make, thereby rendering the drugs less effective. The result of this is an increase in the number of people dying from infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria (23,000 out of 2 million in 2013, according to the CDC). It is estimated that by 2050, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be responsible for more than 10 million deaths-a potential global public health crises except something is done fast.
However, it is not all thick and gloom. Scientists in new research (a collaboration between the MIT and the University of Naples Federico II) have found a novel key with peptides and amino acids that may help in developing antimicrobial agents. The findings predict that novel antibiotics are hiding within antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). The AMPs form natural defences against foreign bodies like bacteria in all living organisms but are not powerful enough to destroy stronger bacteria. According to the senior author of the research, César de la Fuente-Nunez, an MIT postdoctoral researcher, the challenge is finding which peptides within the genetic code have to be targeted to successfully attack antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
To solve this challenge, the scientists utilised a tool that enables them to browse through the body’s 20-letter amino acid code, searching for small patterns within the code. In a way, it is as if they were going through a search engine, looking at where no one had looked before. The study discovered that some combinations of amino acids are more potent at destroying bacteria than others. For example, it was found that small amounts of the peptide pepsin A, responsible for assisting in food digestion could destroy common bacteria like E.coli and salmonella responsible for food poisoning. Additionally, the novel potential antibiotics were not harmful to human cells within the laboratory, making them safe for human consumption.
The researchers opine that studies should focus on peptides in the battle against increasingly harmful bacteria. Their reason is that peptides are simple to program and results synthesised in the laboratory to be sure that code search is correct.
Even though this research has succeeded in displaying a promising novel class of antibiotics, it may still be a decade before this is developed into a marketable drug. Nevertheless, it is an exciting finding, and the researchers are doing their best to get this antibiotic to the market sooner.