Man against bug? The headline may conjure an image of an armed battle scene of soldiers against alien insect-like invaders in a sci-fi movie, like ‘Starship Troopers’. In actuality, the battle against the bug is a very real and ominous threat in our world. After making great gains in suppressing harmful bacterial invaders around the mid-20th century (1-3), scientists are warning that the huge public health concern is emerging once again – with a vengeance. Infection with superbugs (antibiotic resistant bacteria) is increasing in regions around the world (4). Concern is apparent that we may be regressing to an era in which common infections, once highly treatable, are lethal again (4).

A new discovery has inspired hope that the tide may be turning once again, albeit in an early and pre-clinical way: superbugs that were ever so emboldened by indestructability could potentially face an awesome new threat (1,5). After years of scientists’ efforts to harvest some of the more elusive forms of bacteria so that agents of their destruction can be amassed, a “yahoo” moment has rocked the research world (2).

As published in one of the top scientific journals, Nature, a scientific team has found an innovative way to harvest bacteria (2). This discovery has yielded the first agent in a new antibiotic class since the late 1980s (2,6). The new antibiotic, teixobactin, has the power to kill gram-positive bacteria including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in laboratory mouse models, and boasts a mechanism of action that is not particularly prone to resistance (1,2). Perhaps equally exciting is that the technique for producing this agent could potentially yield many new types of antibiotics in the future (1).

As inspiring as this science is, it’s important not to skip too far ahead just yet. The antibiotic’s action is reported only in mouse models so far, and research has yet to uncover how effective and safe it will be in humans (1). As well, many other types of bacteria and superbugs exist, such as gram-negative ones, which are not responsive to teixobactin (1). And yet, how exciting to witness the story unfold of such a promising new agent that could potentially save many lives, should it prove effective and safe in clinical studies.

Geula Bernstein

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2015-01-08-new-game-changing-antibiotic-discovered/
  2. Ling LL, Schneider T, People AJ, et al. A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature. Published online January 7 2015
  3. Aminov RI. A brief history of the antibiotic era: lessons learned and challenges for the future. Front Microbiol. 2010 Dec 8;1:134. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2010.00134. eCollection 2010. PubMed PMID: 21687759; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3109405.
  4. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/amr-report/en/
  5. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/01/07/promising_new_antibiotic_found_in_soil_from_maine_field.html
  6. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/04/30/drugresistant_bacteria_now_a_global_threat_says_who.html