Re-engineered vancomycin offers hope in fight against antimicrobial resistance

Experts have repeatedly warned that medical science is on the cusp of a ‘post-antibiotic era’, where some infections could become untreatable. Now, scientists in the USA have re-engineered a new version of vancomycin in a bid to wipe out one of the world's most threatening microorganisms. The new antibiotic is designed to be ultra-tough and appears to be a thousand times more potent, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA.

While the new agent has yet to be tested in animals and humans, It fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much less likely that the microorganisms can develop resistance. The Scripps Research Institute team hope the drug will be ready for use within five years if it proves successful in clinic al trials.

One hard-to-treat infection is vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). It is found in hospitals, can cause dangerous wound and bloodstream infections, and is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be one of the drug-resistant bacteria that poses the greatest threat to human health. Some antibiotics still work against VRE, but the 60-year-old vancomycin is now powerless.

The Scripps team made some strategic modifications to the molecular structure of the old drug to make it more effective in destroying bacterial cell walls. Lead researcher Dr Dale Boger explained: "We made one change to the vancomycin molecule that overcomes current resistance to the agent. Then we added two small changes that built in two additional ways in which it can kill bacteria. So the re-engineered antibiotic has three different mechanisms by which it works, and resistance to such an antibiotic would be very difficult to emerge."


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