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‘Magical’ antibiotic modified to beat bacterial resistance

PTI | New York |

Researchers have found a way to make a 'magical' antibiotic so powerful that it could eliminate the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections for years to come.

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in the US structurally modified the lifesaving antibiotic called vancomycin to make an already-powerful version of the antibiotic even more potent.

In tests, the researchers found that this new version of the antibiotic can kill one of the most threatening superbugs mostly found in hospitals.

"Doctors could use this modified form of vancomycin without fear of resistance emerging," said lead researcher Dale Boger, co-chair of TSRI's Department of Chemistry.

Researchers tested the new version of the drug against vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE.

Most vancomycin-resistant Enterococci infections occur in health care settings.

VRE can live in the human intestines and female genital tract without causing disease. However, sometimes it can cause infections of the urinary tract, the bloodstream, or of wounds associated with catheters or surgical procedures, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tested against Enterococci bacteria, the new version of vancomycin killed both vancomycin-resistant Enterococci and the original forms of Enterococci, the study said.

vancomycin has been prescribed by doctors for 60 years, and bacteria are only now developing resistance to it. 

This suggests bacteria already have a hard time overcoming vancomycin's original "mechanism of action," which works by disrupting how bacteria form cell walls.

Boger called vancomycin "magical" for its proven strength against infections, and previous studies by Boger and his colleagues at TSRI had shown that it is possible to add two modifications to vancomycin to make it even more potent.

The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that scientists can make a third modification – which interferes with a bacterium's cell wall in a new way – with promising results. 

Combined with the previous modifications, this alteration gives vancomycin a 1,000-fold increase in activity, meaning doctors would need to use less of the antibiotic to fight infection.

The discovery makes this version of vancomycin the first antibiotic to have three independent mechanisms of action. 

"This increases the durability of this antibiotic," Boger said. 

"Organisms just can't simultaneously work to find a way around three independent mechanisms of action. Even if they found a solution to one of those, the organisms would still be killed by the other two," Boger explained.