|Methicillin- resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)|
The first classes of antibiotics were the sulfonamides (1935) and the penicillins (1941). The last class introduced were the lipopeptides (2003). As you no doubt already know, efficacy of many antibiotics has been compromised by over-prescribing, the unrestricted sale over-the-counter in many countries, and their prolific use in the agricultural community. Drug-resistant infections are on the rise, as are the number of deaths from agents such as MRSA and MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant tuberculosis).
Enter Kim Lewis and her team at Northeastern University in Boston. Because 99% of microbes are impossible to culture in labs, they had to find a way to isolate microbes on the bugs' home turf in order to test their potential for life-saving compounds that we might add to our drug arsenal.
Lewis' team created and patented something called the iChip (now licensed to NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals) which allows testing of organisms in the soil. After screening some 10,000 bacteria samples, they discovered a new bacteria, Eleftheria terrae, which secretes a compound called Teixobactin . Teixobactin is exciting because in mammal cell and mouse tests, Teixobactin managed to kill many of the "superbugs" which have bedeviled medicine of late including MRSA, C. Difficile and drug resistant strains of TB.
The bad news is that it may take anywhere from 5-10 years for human trials to be fully completed and Teixobactin to hit the market. And while Teixobactin is also being cautiously touted as "resistant to resistance", history has unfortunately proven that bacteria are fiendishly clever when it comes to surviving. Therefore we will need to continue digging in the dirt for new classes of antibiotics - and thanks to the iChip, we now have a better way to do so.
Lewis K, et. al. Nature (January 22, 2015) "A New Antibiotic Kills Pathogens Without Detectable Resistance "
Mohan G, LA Times (January 7, 2015) "New Antibiotic Teixobactin Kills Drug-Resistant Superbugs, Study Says Retrieved February 13, 2016