Tackling antimicrobial resistance: What’s new?


1. Supercharge me

Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia have ‘supercharged’ an old antibiotic using a technique that could potentially lead to the revitalisation of other antibiotics. Dr Mark Blaskovich and Professor Matt Cooper from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience modified the old drug, vancomycin, in a bid to combat the rise of vancomycin-resistant bacteria. The team modified the antibiotic’s membrane-binding properties to selectively bind to bacterial membranes rather than those of human cells, creating a series of supercharged vancomycin derivatives. The supercharged drug has the potential to treat deadly superbugs including MRSA.

2. Sleeper cell

Research from the University of Exeter has discovered a novel way to identify so-called ‘sleeper cells’, which are likely to survive antibiotics. Biophysicist Dr Stefano Pagliara and team used a miniaturised device to isolate and study single bacteria over time, and found that after they dosed bacteria with ampicillin, the majority of the 1.3% of cells that survived were live, but non-growing. Those cells that appear to be dormant and resemble the cells killed by the antibiotics in fact have the ability to ‘wake up’ and lead to reinfection even after a prolonged period of time.

3. Chicken sinner

Research from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has shown that chickens for sale in Britain’s supermarkets are harbouring record levels of superbugs resistant to some of the strongest antibiotics. The FSA tested a large sample of fresh whole chickens from retailers, reporting ‘significantly higher proportions’ in instances of campylobacter found to be resistant to ciprofloxacin, the antibiotic usually used to treat it, compared to a previous survey 10 years ago.

4. The fall

A report from the Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation shows that the number of new antibiotics in development has fallen significantly since 2000. The report, presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, called on drug companies to do more to tackle the threat of AMR. The Foundation assessed 30 drugmakers worldwide. GSK and Johnson & Johnson emerged as leading the way in endeavours to combat AMR. Foundation head Jayasree Iyer said: “Pharmaceutical companies have a critical contribution to make to the effort to tackle superbugs.”

5. Added incentive

A research project managed by AstraZeneca and the University of Geneva has concluded that a market entry reward of $1 billion per antibiotic globally could significantly increase the number of new antibiotics arriving on the market in the next three decades. DRIVE-AB (Driving Re-investment in research and development for antibiotics and advocating their responsible use) had the task of developing and costing new economic models to promote antibiotic innovation and the sustainable use of novel antibiotics. The consortium assessed more than 30 incentives and determined that a market entry reward, in addition to unit sales for qualifying antibiotics, would create a more attractive market for investment in antibiotic research and development.