Solithromycin rejection chills antibiotic sector

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December rejected the new antibiotic solithromycin over liver toxicity fears, putting the future of the drug in doubt and sending a chill through companies working on novel antimicrobials. “The problems with solithromycin are going to hit the whole sector hard,” says Lloyd Czaplewski, director of Chemical Biology Ventures, a pharmaceutical R&D consultancy in Oxford, UK. “It could put people off getting into an area where we really need some successes.” Read more in Nature Biotechnology.

A ray of hope amid antibiotic gloom

As antibiotic resistance continues to threaten the treatment of various infections, researchers are looking for new ways to supplement and in some cases replace failing antimicrobial drugs.

When it comes to tackling infections, we’ve had it pretty good for the past 90 years. The development of antibiotics has turned many previously deadly infections into mere inconveniences, but it couldn’t last forever. Slowly, bacteria have fought back, developing resistance to many of the most effective drugs. In the United States alone, around 2 million people are infected with resistant strains of bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of these patients die.

“We’re at the end of the first antibiotic era,” says Lloyd Czaplewski, founder of Chemical Biology Ventures, an R&D consultancy based in Oxfordshire. “There might not be any new classes of drugs to discover.”

New ideas are needed. And while most researchers and pharmaceutical companies have all but given up on developing new antibiotics, work is racing ahead on alternative therapies, with an aim to extend the life of existing drugs, or replace them altogether. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Strategies to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals

New drugs that could eventually replace or reduce the use of antibiotics in animals are in development to help slow the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Imagine a farm with over 100,000 head of cattle, each one receiving daily low-dose antibiotics in their food or water, not to treat illness, but to make them put on weight faster.

In the United States, the total amount of antibiotics used in food-producing animals rose by 16% between 2009 and 2012, to 14.61 million kilograms per year, and there is a great deal of overlap between the drugs used in animals and those used in humans. The most recent data on human use in the United States, from 2011, shows that Americans used 3.5 million kilograms of antibiotics that year. Read more in The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Bacteria-killing dispute casts doubt on antibiotic development

Antibiotic drugs are one of the cornerstones of modern medicine, but, surprisingly, scientists still don’t understand all of the ways in which they work. So when biomedical engineer James Collins and his team at Boston University announced several years back that they had discovered a common mechanism of cell death underlying all major classes of antibiotics—and that the pathway could be used to combat resistance, an increasingly growing problem—the report generated a lot of excitement. It even spawned a new company, called EnBiotix, which aims to develop antibiotic ‘adjuvants’—agents designed to weaken the defenses of superbugs and resensitize them to existing antimicrobials.

But in recent months, several different researchers have tested Collins’s idea and found it wanting. “When you look at bacteria killed by different antibiotics, it’s hard to believe there is a common mechanism,” says Frédéric Barras, a bacterial geneticist at Aix-Marseille University in France. Read more in Nature Medicine.

Silver makes antibiotics thousands of times more effective

Ancient antimicrobial treatment could help to solve modern bacterial resistance.

Like werewolves and vampires, bacteria have a weakness: silver. The precious metal has been used to fight infection for thousands of years — Hippocrates first described its antimicrobial properties in 400 bc — but how it works has been a mystery. Now, a team led by James Collins, a biomedical engineer at Boston University in Massachusetts, has described how silver can disrupt bacteria, and shown that the ancient treatment could help to deal with the thoroughly modern scourge of antibiotic resistance. The work is published today in Science Translational MedicineRead more in Nature.