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New Drugs Urgently Needed to Fight Super Bugs

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Infectious Disease researchers at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston are sounding an alarm. We need new drugs to fight super bugs - bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

According to Barbara E. Murray, MD, who co-authored the study with Cesar Arias, M.D., Ph.D, "We have run out of options. The promise of genomics has not panned out. Gene sequencing has not helped us find a better way to fight these bugs."

Dr. Murray, director of Division of Infectious Diseases at the UT Medical School, says it is not just about MRSA, a drug resistant super bug that has raised much public awareness. She warns that other antibiotic resistance bacteria may be far worse – "The Gram-negative bacteria are the most antibiotic-resistant with fewer treatment options in life-threatening diseases, such as certain forms of pneumonia, bloodstream infections, gastroenteritis and even meningitis." Gram-negative super bugs are difficult to treat, and become life threatening when they get into the bloodstream.

Super bugs become resistant to antibiotics through a variety of mechanisms. Bacteria become antibiotic resistant, by creating barriers to drugs. Bacteria can produce enzymes that render antibiotics useless. They can also become super bugs by changing in such a way that the antibiotic cannot latch on and destroy.

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The researchers say part of the super bug problem is misuse of antibiotics either by people who take them incorrectly, or without prescription. The result allows bacteria to outsmart antibiotics, a situation which has in part lead to the urgent need for new drugs that can fight drug resistant bacteria.

According to a 2004 report, from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), research funding from drug companies is vanishing. "The pharmaceutical companies, like all other publicly traded industries, must deliver to its shareholders in order to justify their continued investment. The unique nature of antibiotics makes securing investments challenging. Because antibiotics work so well and so fast, they produce a weak return on investment for manufacturers. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for seven to 14 days."

Dr. Arias points out the need for a collaborative effort to develop new drugs to fight super bugs. He also says we need better testing methods to prevent delays in treatment. It takes 48 hours to grow and identify bacteria in lab cultures. During that time, bacteria can spread, making it important to design faster methods to identify super bugs.

In the meantime, researchers at The Division of Infectious Diseases at the UT Medical School are hard at work trying to understand how bacteria become antibiotic resistant. The goal is to develop new drugs to fight super bugs, before antibiotic resistance gets completely out of hand.

"We are sounding the alarm, and hopefully the world will hear it", says Dr. Murray.

Call to action: running out of options to fight ever-changing "super bugs," say researchers at UT Medical School at Houston