New antibiotic could be a silver bullet against MRSA, researchers suggest

A newly discovered type of antibiotic could be an ideal weapon against potentially fatal infections that plague long-term care facilities, according to findings published yesterday in Nature. It might also be a breakthrough in the effort to create drugs that harmful bacteria cannot develop resistance to, the researchers announced.

The new antimicrobial substance “has the ability to rapidly clear infections,” said lead author Kim Lewis, Ph.D., of Northeastern University. Lewis and his colleagues tested the antibiotic in mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

The antibiotic, teixobactin, attacks substances in the cell walls of harmful bacteria, the investigators found. This makes it different from other antibiotics, which target bacterial proteins. Bugs like MRSA can start producing different proteins to become resistant to drugs. It is highly unlikely that bacteria will become resistant to teixobactin, the study authors asserted.

Adding even more excitement to the discovery is the method the investigators used: They utilized a device they call an iChip. This allowed them to work with substances that do not grow in typical laboratory conditions. The iChip trapped microbes but allowed them to remain in their natural habitat in soil, where they could develop into colonies. The researchers then introduced pathogens into the colonies to see if the microbes had antibiotic properties.

Teixobactin only works against bacteria that have a cell wall, which excludes killers such as E. coli. And it could be two years before human clinical trials begin, the researchers stated. However, they are excited about the implications of their work.

“Now, we can start changing our thinking about strate­gies for antibi­otic dis­covery,” Lewis stated in a press release. “So far, the strategy has been based on devel­oping new antibi­otics faster than the pathogens acquire resis­tance. Teixobactin presents a new oppor­tu­nity to develop com­pounds that are essen­tially free of resistance — a more intel­li­gent approach.”

Complete findings are available online.