Tens of thousands die every year from drug-resistant illnesses, but that may change with a new kind of antibiotic. CCTV America’s Jim Spellman reported this story from Washington D.C.
Since antibiotics first became commercially available in the 1940s, pathogens, the bacteria that cause diseases such as tuberculosis have developed resistance to those drugs, forcing pharmaceutical companies to respond by making new antibiotics. That is, until about 30 years ago, when scientists appeared to hit a dead end.
“There are no dramatically new drugs on the market. The pipeline is dry. In the meantime our principal pathogens are developing resistance to the existing antibiotics,” Northeastern University researcher Slava Epstein said.
The effects are staggering. In the United States alone, 23,000 people a year die from antibiotic resistant diseases, while another 25,000 die across the European Union, on top of tens of thousands more worldwide.
But now a new pipeline for antibiotic drugs may have been discovered out of a sample of dirt dug up by a researcher while on vacation in Maine.
Microbes are extracted from the soil, then put back into the dirt using what Epstein and his fellow researchers working with Novo Biotic have dubbed the iChip.
“We figured out a way to put the cell we want to cultivate back into the original environment, enabling it to use what’s naturally always available to it and by doing so, grow it,” Epstein said.
Out of this pipeline a new antibiotic has emerged, called teixobactin.
Current antibiotics attack a single part of a cell, but teixobactin attacks two parts of a cell, meaning it will be much harder for pathogens to develop resistance.
“It’s still not zero, but it will take much longer for pathogens to develop resistance to teixobactin,” Epstein said.
The new antibiotic still needs at least five years of human trials before becoming an approved drug, but animal testing has been successful.
“If everything goes well tens of thousands of lives will be saved,” Epstein added.
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