Antibiotic kills deadly, drug-resistant bacteria in ‘scientific breakthrough’

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Scientists in Switzerland have announced the discovery of a new class of antibiotics shown to be effective against deadly, drug-resistant bacteria.

The antibiotic, called zosurabalpin, works by blocking a bacterial molecule called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which is responsible for creating the outer membrane that protects a harmful bacteria, Acinetobacter baumannii.

Acinetobacter is a “gram-negative” bacteria, which means it is resistant to most antibiotics and other drugs

It can cause infections in the blood, lungs, urinary tract and other parts of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In animal studies, zosurabalpin successfully killed drug-resistant strains of Acinetobacter.

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The research, conducted at Roche Pharma Research & Early Development in Switzerland, was published in the journal Nature on Jan. 3.

Scientists in Switzerland have announced the discovery of a new class of antibiotics that shown to be effective against deadly, drug-resistant bacteria. (iStock)

“This new class of antibiotics prevents bacteria from creating their outer membrane, which provide structure to the bacteria and help them survive in harsh environments and cause infection,” Kenneth Bradley, the Switzerland-based global head of infectious disease discovery at Roche, told Fox News Digital via email.

Without the ability to transport LPS — the bacteria die.

“The new molecule overcomes the existing drug-resistance mechanisms that the currently available antibiotics are failing to address,” Bradley said.

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This is the first time in over 50 years that a new class of antibiotic has been identified to treat infections by gram-negative bacteria, he noted.

Zosurabalpin specifically targets Acinetobacter.

“The specificity of zosurabalpin is due to the unique way in which it binds to the drug target in these bacteria,” Bradley said. 

Bacteria culture

The antibiotic, called zosurabalpin, works by blocking a bacterial molecule called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which is responsible for creating the outer membrane that protects harmful bacteria, Acinetobacter baumannii (not pictured).  (iStock)

The hope is that this finding could help eventually to fight other drug-resistant bacteria.

“Discovery of the mode of action of zosurabalpin in Acinetobacter may enable the identification of other drugs that work in the same way in other antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Bradley told Fox News Digital.

Zosurabalpin is currently in a phase 1 clinical trial, which will evaluate the “safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics” of the molecule, according to the researcher.

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“These data, as well as data from future pivotal phase 3 clinical studies, would be needed to determine the safety and efficacy profile of the molecule,” he added.

The discovery of zosurabalpin, which Bradley calls a “scientific breakthrough,” will help researchers learn more about the construction of bacterial membranes, knowledge that could enable new drugs to kill bacteria.

The finding is especially significant, given that resistance to antibiotics has been on the rise in various gram-negative bacteria for several decades, he said. 

Man on ventilator

Acinetobacter infections are most commonly seen in hospital patients, mainly affecting those who are on ventilators, have surgical wounds, are in intensive care units or have catheters, according to the CDC. (iStock)

“Any new antibiotic class that has the ability to treat infections caused by multi-drug-resistant bacteria such as carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (CRAB) would be a significant breakthrough,” he added. 

Michael Lobritz, the Switzerland-based head of infectious diseases at Roche, referred in a press release to antimicrobial resistance as a “silent pandemic.”

“Over the next 30 years, it is projected to claim more lives than those taken by cancer today, according to the report of the economist Jim O’Neill,” Lobritz said.

Over the next 30 years, antimicrobial resistance is “projected to claim more lives than those taken by cancer today,” an expert said.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, agreed that the growing resistance of gram-negative bacteria is a “huge problem.”

“Our last line of defense for decades now in the hospital has been the carbapenem drugs, specifically Imipenem and Mirapenem,” he told Fox News Digital. 

Roche

The research was done at Roche Pharma Research & Early Development in Switzerland. (iStock)

“But now there is an increase of carbapenem-resistant strains — including carbapenem-resistant Acinobacter baumannii, or CRAB — which are very difficult to treat.”

Siegel also acknowledged the importance of the newly discovered zosurabalpin.

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“It interferes with a lipid transport mechanism at the surface of the bacteria,” he said. “This is very important, as there are now millions of deaths a year worldwide due to antibiotic resistance.”

Zosurabalpin has only been tested in animals so far, Siegel noted, with human trials underway. 

What to know about Acinetobacter

Acinetobacter infections are most commonly seen in hospital patients, mainly affecting those who are on ventilators, have surgical wounds, are in intensive care units or have catheters, according to the CDC.

Emergency room

Those with lung disease, diabetes or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of infection. (iStock)

Those with lung disease, diabetes or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of infection.

The bacteria can spread from person to person or via contact with contaminated surfaces.

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Acinetobacter baumannii, along with other gram-negative bacteria, is tracked by the CDC as part of its Emerging Infections Program.

Looking ahead, Siegel said he expects that artificial intelligence will help speed up the process of developing new antibiotics and make it “more effective and streamlined.”

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