First Antibiotic in 25 Years Discovered from Soil Bacteria

Teixobactin is a hopeful new tool in the fight against drug resistant bacteria like MRSA and Tuberculosis

The 1950’s and 60’s were a golden age for the pharmaceutical industry, when it came to antibiotics research. New molecules were being discovered with stunning regularity. A common refrain back then was that the developed world would conquer infections and make everything from pneumonia to urinary tract infections a thing of the past.

This led to an interesting conundrum for the bean counters at the big pharmaceutical companies of the day. Since there are many drugs already in use right now, bacteria don’t stand a chance! Then why waste more money on making newer antibiotics?

Therefore, in the latter half of the 20th century, funding shifted away from antibiotic research. That is not really a bad idea when you think of it. Pharmaceutical companies are meant to carry out goal oriented research. The financial ‘burn’ rate for discovering new molecules can bankrupt a small nation. Therefore, you would expect private industries to shift their focus to newer horizons every once in awhile.

The 60’s and 70’s saw a huge shift in funding priorities. This shift, the lazy prescription habits among doctors (who started handing antibiotics out like candy), the industrial use of antibiotics on cattle and chicken to encourage growth, and last but not the least, the poor understanding of the mechanism of bacterial evolution, led to the beginnings of a problem in the 80’s. Clinicians began to talk about ‘bacterial resistance’.

The concept wasn’t new. Academic research on the issue of bacterial resistance is almost as old as the antibiotic era. Poor communication between practitioners and a lack of funding in basic science led to a full blown crisis in the 90’s. Bacteria like MRSA, and resistant streptococcus pneumoniae became more and more prevalent in large hospitals where poor hygiene among healthcare workers led to their transfer from one immune compromised patient to another day in and day out.

Resistance also spiraled out of control in the industrial food sector with antibiotics being put into feed, grain and bacteria like E. coli, developing resistance to them. Food poisoning with resistant bacteria became a well understood threat in the 90’s as well.

It’s around this time that the medical world went into full panic mode. Funding was returned to the search for new antibiotics with a vengeance.

It’s this renewed vigor which finally bore fruit. January 7th, the antibiotic “teixobactin” was announced. The molecule is part of what could potentially be a brand new class of antibiotics which show none of the existing resistance profiles seen in existing antibiotics.

It was discovered by culturing soil bacteria and harvesting the natural chemicals that they produce. A lot of these soil bacteria are not even categorized or studied. They are nameless and in the past, they couldn’t even be cultured in artificial media.

Thus far, the molecule has been very effective (at least in animal trials) against bacteria like MRSA and TB. Over the next 5-6 years, further testing will hopefully demonstrate its long term safety in human trials.

We now understand a lot more about bacterial resistance and how it develops. Let us hope this new drug is the first step to a series of new antibiotics which help us overcome the current crisis. In the future, public policy making and long term view should help prevent another public health crisis like the one we have suffered for the last 25 years.

By  Dr. Vinay Bhardwaj  | Health Care Magic


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Health Magazine: First Antibiotic in 25 Years Discovered from Soil Bacteria
First Antibiotic in 25 Years Discovered from Soil Bacteria
Health Magazine
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