New antibiotic molecule being developed in fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

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Northern Antibiotics is working on a new antibiotic molecule that it hopes will become a weapon against antibiotic bacteria.

Each year, around 60,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Europe and the U.S., and this number is growing. In addition, antibiotic-resistant bacteria causes prolonged treatments and extended hospital stays for numerous other patients, resulting in increased healthcare costs.

Finnish company Northern Antibiotics is working on a new antibiotic molecule, a derivative of polymyxin, which the company says has significant potential to become one of the few last-resort weapons against bacteria resistant to all antibiotics now in use.

The company, led by Professor Martti Vaara, is scouting for a commercial partner as the development requires additional funding. With the help of additional resources and a commercial partner, the Northern Antibiotics’ antibiotic molecule could be ready for hospital use in mid-2020s.

Based on pre-clinical research, the polymyxin derivative, which belongs to the peptide antibiotics, is effective against bacteria that are resistant to carbapenem antibiotics.

Until now, carbapenem antibiotics have been used to treat serious infections caused by the ‘super bacteria’ resistant to any other antibiotics. Carbapenems work in the same fashion as penicillin and cephalosporin but are still effective against bacteria that are resistant, amongst others, to these common antibiotics. However, now bugs are turning resistant to carbapenems, too.

At the end of the 1960s, the extensive use of the old polymyxin was terminated because the antibiotic was found to be too toxic to kidneys and because better-tolerated drugs belonging to other antibiotic classes were discovered. Now polymyxins have resurged as the last-resort drugs against extremely multi-resistant strains, even though their nephrotoxicity forces clinicians to administer them at doses that are lower than those required for optimal efficacy.

In the preclinical studies, the polymyxin derivative developed by Northern Antibiotics has been found to be less nephrotoxic than the old polymyxin. In addition, high levels of the derivative are excreted into urine which, when compared to the old polymyxin, increases efficacy and makes it possible to use significantly lower doses in the treatment of urinary tract infections. Thus, decreasing the risks of side-effects in the same proportion.

Northern Antibiotics says that the hospital use of its antibiotic derivative could be possible during the 2020s as development is in late preclinical stage. External funding would enable the company to take the new antibiotic to the first human clinical trials.

In 2015, Northern Antibiotics licensed another polymyxin derivative of its to an American antibiotic company Spero Therapeutics. This molecule is inactive alone but it does enhance the activity of other antibiotics, and it has already passed the first phase of human clinical trials.