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Scientists Revamp Old Antibiotic To Kill Superbug

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Scientists have created a much-needed antibiotic in an effort to combat one of the world’s worst and most dangerous superbugs.

This drug, a re-engineered version of vancomycin, is designed to be incredibly tough and seems to be a thousand times more potent than the old antibiotic, the BBC reports. The new drug can fight bacteria in three different ways, making it more efficient at targeting superbugs by preventing them from evading treatment.

However, the drug has yet to be tested on animals and people. The Scripps Research Institute scientists hope that this potentially helpful medicine will be ready for use in the next five years if it passes the necessary tests.

Health experts have repeatedly warned about the incoming “post-antibiotic era,” where some of the world’s common infections will soon become difficult to treat, if not downright untreatable. One of the infections doctors have been worried about is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE.

VRE has been found in hospitals, and can cause threatening wound and bloodstream infections.

The World Health Organization has called it one of the superbugs that poses the greatest danger to public health. While some antibiotics have proven to still be effective against VRE, vancomycin is not one of them anymore.

The Scripps research team decided to see if they could re-create a version of the antibiotic to restore its ability to thwart VRE. By making changes to the molecular structure of the drug, they were able to make it better at destroying bacterial cell walls. The scientists likewise increased the strength and durability of vancomycin.

Dale Boger, lead researcher, said, “We made one change to the molecule vancomycin that overcomes what is the present resistance to vancomycin. And then we added to the molecule, two small changes that built into the molecule, two additional ways in which it can kill bacteria. So the antibiotic has three different, we call them ‘mechanisms’, by which it kills bacteria. And resistance to such an antibiotic would be very difficult to emerge. So it’s a molecule designed specifically to address the emergence of resistance.”

This version was able to kill all VRE samples in a lab, and kept its full potency after 50 rounds of exposure. Boger said, “Organisms just can’t simultaneously work to find a way around three independent mechanisms of action. Even if they found a solution to one of those, the organisms would still be killed by the other two. Doctors could use this modified form of vancomycin without fear of resistance emerging.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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