Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus. Photo Credit: Janice Haney Carr Content Providers: CDC.

Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, bacterial infections were the leading cause of death worldwide. Now, treating infections is often a routine procedure – simply requiring a doctor’s visit and a prescribed antibiotic. However, this simple routine has become marred by the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is fueling the rise of resistant bacteria. In response to antibiotic exposure, bacteria have evolved mutations in their DNA that allow them to survive in the presence of these drugs. Around 700,000 people die annually from these drug-resistant infections. Certain bacteria are even resistant to vancomycin, a “last resort” antibiotic used only when all other drugs have failed. However, a new drug of last resort is on the horizon at last.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute modified vancomycin to develop a new antibiotic that shows a 25,000-fold improvement in potency. The resulting drug presents a triple threat, acting via three different mechanisms to damage the bacterial cell wall. It is unlikely that bacteria will develop resistance to this three-pronged approach: even if they evolve to curtail one mechanism, they’ll still be killed by the other two.

There’s still a long way to go before this new antibiotic reaches humans. Next steps will involve scaling up production (and cutting down on the 30 chemical steps currently required to make it!), and testing it in animals. Ultimately, if it proceeds through clinical trials, this antibiotic will provide a powerful defense against disease-causing bacteria.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Christopher Gerry, a Ph.D. student in the Chemistry and Chemical Biology program at Harvard University, for providing his expertise and commentary on the topic.

Managing Correspondent: Benika Pinch

Original Research:  Peripheral modification of [Ψ[CH2NH]Tpg4]vancomycin with added synergistic mechanisms of action provide durable and potent antibiotics Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Media Coverage: Superantibiotic is 25,000 times more potent than its predecessor Science.
New antibiotic packs a punch against bacterial resistance Phys Org.

Related SITN Article: Antibiotic Resistance: Old Genes, New Problems


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