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August 08, 2020  
MEDTECH NEWS: Technology & Innovation

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  • Superbugs Beware

    Superbugs Beware


    July 31, 2006

    By: Seth Hays for MedTech1

    Certain strains of bacteria have increasingly become resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics the medical community has to offer. Yet some of these superbugs might have met their match with a compound recently discovered at Merck Research Laboratories, a study published in May by the journal Nature reports.

    Take Action
    Avoid all bugs, not just superbugs

    Practice common-sense personal hygiene: Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before you eat. Take showers often, but try not to share towels.

    Wash your hands after handling pets, or cleaning up after them.

    Drink plenty of fluids, which will flush out your kidneys and bladder plus keep your mouth moist and healthy.

    Take care of yourself: keep warm if it’s cold outside and keep clear (as much as possible) from large crowds.


    Found in a soil sample from South Africa, platensimycin – a compound isolated from a strain of Streptomyces platensis – works in a novel way to stop antibiotic-resistant bacteria dead in their tracks. Whereas common antibiotics attack a bacterium’s cell wall or DNA and protein synthesis machinery, this newly-discovered compound neutralizes an enzyme called FabF – stopping the production of fatty acids that line the cell wall of the bacteria. It is the first new chemical class of antibiotic to be discovered in two decades and only two other chemical classes have been discovered since the early ’60s, which has created much excitement surrounding this new compound.

    Researchers tested some 250,000 compounds extracted from microorganisms from around the world in hopes of finding a novel antibiotic. The new compound has worked well against in vitro antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in lab-dishes. Researchers infected mice with S. aureus and then administered the compound. Afterwards they saw a 10,000 fold decrease in the bacterial outbreak over 24 hours. The May publication states that the compound has in vivo efficacy and no observed toxicity.

    However much excitement there is surrounding the new antibiotic, it needs to be tempered. An article in the same May edition of Nature indicates that financial, regulatory and scientific hurdles need to be cleared before the antibiotic can be commercially available. One problem the article notes is that the mice in the experiment needed to be continuously injected with the compound, indicating that it is easily metabolized and unstable in the body. If any modifications are made, they could make the compound toxic, rendering it useless.
    Learn More
    Quick Facts
    Almost two million patients in the United States get an infection in hospitals each year.

    90,000 people die from infections each year, up from 13,300 in 1992.

    People infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer hospital stays and require treatment with less effective, more toxic, and more expensive medicines.

    Children have the highest rates of antibiotic use and the highest rate of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

    The first S. aureus infections resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin emerged in the United States in 2002.


    Economic incentives for companies to research new antibiotics, which are used sparingly and infrequently, are small in light of expensive human trials.

    Even if the drug does make it on to the market, bacteria very well might form a resistance to it, rendering the drug useless.

    The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 90,000 people die as a result of infections in hospitals, of which 70 percent can be traced to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The CDC indicates that the problem of antibiotic-resistance is growing.

    Antibiotic-resistance is a simple case of “survival of the fittest” where evolutionary selectiveness eliminates more common bacteria that are susceptible to antibiotics. The bacteria that live as a result of their uniqueness then multiply increasing their prevalence and the chances that the next infections will be resistant to antibiotics. Michael Blum, M.D., medical officer in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) division of anti-infective drug products states in an FDA article on the history of antibiotic-resistance, "Resistance increased to a number of commonly used antibiotics, possibly related to overuse of antibiotics."

    Though Merck Research Laboratories has not said what the future of platensimycin will hold, it said it is still dedicated to finding novel antibiotics.

    Last updated: 31-Jul-06

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