Forgotten Antibiotic Could Save the World From Deadly Superbugs

A researcher holding a petri dish with a culture at the microbiology lab of the Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen, a hospital in Antwerp, on August 13, 2010. Media reported that a man of Pakistani origin died in Belgium following an infection of a new super bacteria, NDM-1, that is resistant against almost every antibiotic. Jorge Dirxx/AFP/Getty Images
As superbugs are becoming more common worldwide, scientists are urgently trying to figure out ways to tackle the deadly issue. Instead of attempting to develop a new antibiotic, a team of researchers believe a drug discovered decades ago could be the answer.

The drug, called octapeptin, showed promising results in a study conducted on animal models. It was able to effectively fight against bacteria that are known to be drug resistant.

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"Octapeptins were discovered in the late 1970s but were not selected for development at the time, as there was an abundance of new antibiotics with thousands of people working in antibiotic research and development," Matt Cooper, director of the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bioscience's Centre for Superbug Solutions, said in a statement.

Finding new ways to fight superbugs is crucial, especially considering at least 23,000 people die each year in the United States after they become infected with drug-resistant bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently, an antibiotic called colistin is used as a last resort therapy to fight off infections caused by a bacteria, called multidrug-resistant gram-negative, that's resistant to multiple antibiotics. And the drug which Cooper and his colleagues tested is structurally similar to colistin.

"Gram-negative bacteria are harder to kill as disease organisms, because they have an extra membrane to penetrate that is often hidden by a capsule or slime layer which acts to camouflage them from drugs and our immune system," he explained.

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In their paper, published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, Cooper and his colleagues explained that not only did octapeptin more effectively fight off infection than colistin, but that it also may be better for the body.

"Octapeptin was shown to be potentially less toxic to the kidneys than colistin," Cooper said.

However, it's important to note that the study is in its early stages and was conducted on animal models, therefore more research is needed before the results can be translated to humans.