New drug eliminates over 300 kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

URBANA-CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For patients with a urinary tract infection, what’s the best way to deal with it? You can go to your doctor for antibiotics, but you run the risk of the medication not working the next time around. If you wait it out, you may have to deal with agonizing symptoms for days. Fortunately, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may have discovered a third option. Their study finds a new molecule that’s able to ward off more than 300 drug-resistant bacteria — including the one that causes UTIs.

Urinary tract infections are only one of the many conditions that gram-negative bacteria cause in humans. Infecting millions of people globally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gram-negative bacteria are also responsible for deadly cases of pneumonia.

What makes these bacteria resistant to antibiotics are their strong defenses. Gram-negative bacteria come equipped with sturdy cell walls that keep antibiotics from infiltrating and pumping out those that do manage to get inside. Another feature is their ability to adapt. The bacteria are capable of rapidly mutating after facing multiple drugs.

To make matters worse, antibiotics do not specifically target a certain bacterial species. They eliminate any bacteria it comes across, including the good ones in your gut microbiome. The team’s mission was to circumvent this issue by creating a drug capable of breaching bacterial cell walls while also keeping beneficial microbes unharmed.

Fabimycin checks all the boxes

They used an antibiotic that was active against gram-positive bacteria as their base and then designed multiple structural modifications that would target gram-negative strains. One of the modified compounds was fabimycin. They observed that fabimycin was capable of taking out over 300 drug-resistant bacteria while leaving gram-positive pathogens and other harmless bacteria in the body alone.

In mice with pneumonia or urinary tract infections, fabimycin helped lower the number of drug-resistant bacteria to pre-infection levels or below. Fabimycin alone performed as well if not better than antibiotics at similar doses. While more research, including in humans, is necessary before marketing fabimycin as a UTI treatment, the study authors are hopeful that this could be an effective solution for difficult-to-treat infections.

The study is published in the journal ACS Central Science.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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