New drug offers hope in fighting hospital ‘superbugs’


Recent studies reveal a potential breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” offering a rare glimmer of hope in addressing life-threatening infections prevalent in hospital settings.

The pharmaceutical giant Roche has been developing a drug that, although tested on a specific bacterium, presents a novel method of combating bacterial infections. This development, while currently focused on a bacteria strain known as Carbapenem-Resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (CRAB), signifies a potential avenue for addressing other microbial threats, urging crucial investments in research.

“We’ve identified a new approach to kill bacteria. Imagine tweaking the chemical composition to target other pathogens,” remarked Michael Lobritz, Global Head of Infectious Diseases at Roche’s Pharmaceutical Research and Early Development department. Lobritz collaborated with experts from Harvard University in publishing two papers in the journal “Nature.”

Roche is now conducting phase 1 clinical trials for the candidate drug, aiming to combat CRAB, a bacterium responsible for diseases such as sepsis and pneumonia. CRAB thrives in hospitals, spreading easily among weakened patients battling other illnesses.

Researchers developed a molecule called a peptide, a constituent of proteins, to weaken CRAB’s outer membrane. This peptide achieves this by inhibiting the pathogen from carrying a chemical substance known as lipopolysaccharide, which enhances membrane elasticity.

CRAB, listed as a priority by the World Health Organization and classified as an urgent threat by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poses health risks with limited effective treatment options. There has been no new antibiotic developed for treating CRAB in over half a century.

Antimicrobial drug resistance arises when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites evolve the ability to resist existing treatment methods such as antibiotics. This phenomenon, according to the World Health Organization, is associated with five million deaths annually.

A challenge in addressing this issue is the lack of funding for discovering new drugs, exacerbated by the expanding resistance of bacteria to existing medications. Many existing drugs are derived from natural sources, requiring less foundational research investment compared to other types of medications.

Scientists suggest that the candidate drug, named zosurabalpin, targeting CRAB, may be effective against other pathogens resistant to traditional antibiotics, posing a threat to hospital patients. These pathogens are part of the Gram-negative bacteria category, sharing similar outer membrane structures with CRAB.

According to Morgan Gugger and Professor Paul Hergenrother from the University of Illinois, the emergence of zosurabalpin opens the door to addressing a broader spectrum of Gram-negative pathogens. These potential targets include Pseudomonas aeruginosa causing blood and lung infections, Klebsiella pneumoniae causing pneumonia, and Escherichia coli (E. coli) causing intestinal and urinary tract diseases.

The highly targeted action of zosurabalpin’s chemical mechanism may also mean less destruction of beneficial gut bacteria compared to most traditional antibiotics, as highlighted in a commentary published in the journal “Nature.”

Gugger and Hergenrother state,”The movement towards bacteria-specific antibiotics is a new development that can be facilitated by rapidly identifying specific harmful bacteria through diagnostics in infected individuals.”There will be new progress in antibiotic research.

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