New Antibiotic Proves Effective Against "Superbugs"

| 30 Jul 2013 17:31
Underwater photo, coral reef

Image Source: Wikimedia

Scientists have found a new, naturally-derived antibiotic deep underwater, and it's so far proven surprisingly effective against the highly dangerous MRSA bacteria.

While nature may be the planet's built-in medicine cabinet, most antibiotics manufactured today were created in a lab. They're generally based on a combination of natural substances, but in our modern era, it's increasingly rare that science stumbles upon an entirely new, naturally-occuring antibiotic - the last naturally-derived antibiotic debuted way back in 2003 - but that's exactly what's happened off the coast of California.

Dubbed "Anthracimycin," this new antibiotic compound is derived from the aquatic Streptomyces bacteria. According to researchers, it exhibits a unique chemical structure, which not only makes it surprisingly effective against otherwise wildly dangerous maladies like MRSA, but it also offers hope that Anthracimycin could be used as a basis on which to create new therapeutic drugs.

"The discovery of truly new antibiotic compounds is quite rare," says research leader William Fenical, a professor of Oceanography and Pharmaceutical Science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"It's not just one discovery. It opens up the opportunity to develop analogues - potentially hundreds," Fenical adds. "Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1928 and from that more than 25 drugs were developed. When you find a new antibiotic structure, it goes beyond just one."

That bit about Anthracimycin being a potent weapon against MRSA is a key point here: MRSA has become a huge problem for hospitals, where it can quickly spread between patients. The biggest issue with MRSA (aside from the fact that it dissolves a person's flesh in horrific fashion) is that it's highly antibiotic resistant. In lab tests performed on MRSA-infected mice however, Anthracimycin was able to neutralize or eradicate the MRSA infection in 85 percent of test subjects.

Anthrax is typically less antibiotic resistant than MRSA, but since it's become a popular biological weapon over the past decade, there are groups out there with the ability and drive to manufacture new strains of anthrax that resist modern treatments. The researchers hope that Anthracimycin will allow government agencies to create a new, secret antibiotic that terrorists are unable to counteract with clever biological manipulation.

While this discovery is undoubtedly good news, it does highlight one worrying issue: Our oceans are full of potentially life-saving drugs that mankind has yet to discover, but few companies are willing or able to dive down and find them.

"The potential for discoveries in oceans is enormous," says Professor Fenical. "It's by far the largest biodiversity resource we have. It's a 3D resource too - it has animals, plants, microbes and when you reach the bottom there's an incredible richness of micro-organisms."

"But pharmaceutical companies don't have the expertise or the inclination to make ocean discoveries. There are about six marine-derived drugs in circulation and another 26 in clinical trials - including Marizomid and Plinabulin - but these discoveries have been made by academics. A lot of them are in the field of cancer and serious pain control and inflammation," he adds.

If you need a daily dose of cynicism, there's your cue. There's a pharmacological treasure trove beneath the sea with potential cures for everything from cancer to the common cold, and the only people who seem to be acting on this information are professors and grad students.

Source: Science Alert

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