New drug beats antibiotic-resistant bugs

BOSTON - Today's research offers a one-two punch in the search for new antibiotics: a different way of finding them and the discovery of one: Teixobactin, that makes antibiotic resistance unlikely.

"My guess is that if resistance is going to develop against Teixobactin, it will take more than 30 years for that to occur," said Kim Lewis, who led a team of scientists at Northeastern University.

Overuse of antibiotics has led to infection with drug-resistant bacteria in at least 2 million Americans a year, killing at least 23,000.

Most antibiotics are produced by bacteria found in the soil. But only about one percent of these organisms can be grown in the laboratory.

"We did something very different, instead of trying to figure out what to put in a petri dish we simply grew them in their natural environment," said Lewis.

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Teixobactin, an antibiotic compound grown in soil, could become a major force in fighting drug-resistant bacteria.

CBS News

So they placed the bacteria directly in the soil in tiny wells, isolating 50,000 different specimens which made 25 new antibiotics. One, Teixobactin, effectively killed certain drug-resistant bacteria including MRSA, C. difficile, and tuberculosis. So far the research is only in mice.

The kinds of mutations that usually cause bacteria to become antibiotic resistant don't seem to affect how Teixobactin works. Lewis says this may lead to a whole new approach.

"The standard dogma under which we were operating that bacteria will always and rapidly develop resistance, that dogma may be incorrect."

Professor Lewis says human trials could begin in 2-3 years. If all goes well, it would still be 5-6 years before a new antibiotic drug could become commercially available.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook